A few weeks ago, Karine Aviv bought her daughters something she hopes will help keep them well during the pandemic.
She didn’t buy them medical masks or latex gloves, as much as those might help. Instead, she got them something that had helped her through difficult times when she was younger – journals.
“I told them each to write about anything they want right now,” says Ms. Aviv, who lives in Calgary. “For emotional purposes, you can get your thoughts out.”
Studies have shown that writing about feelings reduces stress and anxiety and can even boost the immune system. Journaling can be such an effective way of processing thoughts and feelings that it is often recommended by mental-health professionals. Considering the event we are all currently living through, journals kept today may be of great personal interest years from now.
“I said, ‘Read it five years down the road or 10 years down the road,’” Ms. Aviv told her daughters, 19-year-old Orianne, 16-year-old Denya and 12-year-old Lena. “I think they’re going to be known as the COVID-19 generation.”
No longer able to attend school, cut off from hanging out with friends and facing all the other stresses of the pandemic, young people today certainly have many reasons to benefit from journaling, says Robert Kraft, a professor of cognitive psychology at Otterbein University in Ohio.
Often, journaling is particularly helpful during times of uncertainty by helping a person make sense of what may at first seem like chaotic events or emotions.
“You can turn that in to something more meaningful on the page,” Prof. Kraft says.
In a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2018, researchers found that keeping a journal reduced a person’s stress and anxiety levels after just one month.
Journaling “may serve as an effective intervention for mitigating mental distress, increasing well-being,” the study’s authors concluded.
As well, other studies have shown that journaling increases immune functioning in patients with a number of diseases and medical conditions, including HIV/AIDS, arthritis and asthma.
On top of that, there are also studies that have shown journaling leads to better sleep and higher IQs.
However, Ms. Aviv wasn’t thinking of any of these studies when she gave her daughters journals.
“The truth is journaling was a major emotional outlet for me when I was younger,” she says. “It really helped me get through some rough patches back then.”
She hopes it will do the same for her children, none of whom have kept a journal before now.
So far, Orianne has recorded facts about the pandemic – “How many cases there are, and e-mails from school and what they’re doing,” she says.
Denya says she mostly writes “what I did that day and if anything kind of unexpected happened.”
She enjoys it, she says.
“It’s calming. I can write whatever,” she says.
Lena, the youngest daughter, says she records what she’s been doing the past few days, opting not to write in her journal every day.
As therapeutic as it can be, journaling is also a good way for younger kids to practise their writing, says Patricia Bowman, a retired teacher and young-adult novelist who lives in Surrey, B.C.
She recommends prompts for younger children.
For instance, the kids could “start with a picture and explain in a couple of sentences what they have been up to, how they are getting along without friends and older family members,” Ms. Bowman says. Of course, they should also be allowed to write whatever they want, she says.
Bice Amoroso’s eight-year-old daughter has kept a journal since before the pandemic.
“Now that we’re doing homeschooling, she’ll write every other day what she does,” says Ms. Amoroso, an occupational therapist who lives in Oakville, Ont.
Her daughter "looks forward to writing in it. It gives her independence, that quiet time where she can do it on her own.”
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