by Nicole Carollo
I got my combined-type ADHD diagnosis on a sunny day in August of 2020. For months, through research and self-reflection, I knew the diagnosis was coming. Still, though, it’s hard to prepare. Home alone with a pandemic raging outside, I didn’t know how to begin processing the life-changing news.
I had tried journal writing countless times over the years. I liked the idea, but I could never get myself to stick to it. Yet on that hot summer day, it’s the only thing I wanted to do. I needed to get my feelings out on paper. After trying and failing to cultivate a daily writing practice, my diagnosis led me to finally connect with journaling.
The Benefits of Journaling for Adults with ADHD
A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of articles on the benefits of journaling, with plenty of research to back it. As someone with ADHD writing for others with ADHD, I’ll share my personal experience with journaling and the benefits I have noticed.
Journaling helps me process my emotions.
A life with ADHD comes with big feelings and impulsive responses. Through writing, I’m able to pause my spiraling thoughts and examine them. What is at the root of how I’m feeling? Am I triggered in some way? Am I jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, or judging? As I work through the source of my emotional response, I naturally flow into the next steps. What do I need to do to help me cope? Is it necessary to enforce boundaries? Can I let it go?
Journaling increases my self-compassion.
I‘m in a life-long relationship with negative thought spirals. I’m always trying to end it, but my negative thoughts don’t get the hint. For me, journaling is the big, red stop sign that brings them to a halt. It’s one thing to think something awful about yourself; it’s another to write it out and have your words reflected back at you. It’s a wake-up call to my brain: “hey! Stop being so mean!”
Journaling reduces my anxiety.
Similarly, it’s one thing to indulge in anxious thoughts; it’s another to see them written down. Speaking my anxieties out loud takes away their power. Writing my intrusive thoughts offers the same release without having to share my (sometimes silly) fears with anyone.
Journaling boosts my creativity.
My best brainstorming always happens when I’m jotting my ideas down with a pen. My thoughts flow so quickly that sometimes I don’t know what I was thinking until I’ve written it down. Writing without a censor frees me from overthinking and limiting my imagination. It helps my brain make connections it might not otherwise. Most importantly for ADHD, it allows me to capture my great ideas before I forget them two minutes later.
Journaling Obstacles and How to Overcome Them
When you struggle with executive function, it’s important to remove obstacles between you and your goals. I’ve spent many beautiful days inside because putting on sunscreen seemed too daunting. I know even tiny details can feel insurmountable.
What kind of notebook do I need?
It seems like a small decision, and it is. In my head though, it was a painstaking one. I wanted to take journaling seriously and thought I needed the fanciest journal with the best reviews. Guess what I really needed? Something accessible. This is why I now buy college-ruled Mead notebooks by the pack. It’s an affordable and simple option, and I always have backups.
What should I write about?
Each time I struggled to make a habit of journaling, I was making one huge mistake: I was being inauthentic. I don’t know what audience I thought I was writing for, but I wasn’t writing for me. I thought I needed a theme, a linear message, a neat ending. It was overwhelming. The journaling I do now? It’s messy. It’s all over the place like my thoughts are. I write whatever is on my mind. That can be anything from an argument with a friend to how lovely the weather is, with ten tangents between.
How do I stick with it?
When establishing a habit, it’s helpful to add it to another part of your daily routine. I prefer to journal while I drink my tea in the morning, outside on the balcony if weather permits. Though, if we’re being honest, it doesn’t always work out like that. Flexibility is key. I’ll journal anywhere, anytime. Fifteen minutes spent journaling beats fifteen minutes spent scrolling on my phone by a long shot. Focusing on the immediate benefits I feel post-journaling motivates me to pick up my notebook. It’s my “me” time, and I look forward to it each day.
The Dos and Don’ts of Journaling
I only have one hard-and-fast rule when it comes to journaling: be authentic. These other suggestions help me make the most of my time with my notebook.
DO: Write whatever you want.
Nothing is off-limits. Doodle. Write in the margins. Scribble your grocery list on the header. Make it yours, whatever that means to you.
DON’T: Beat yourself up over missing a few days.
I used to get in my head when I missed an entry. It was my “proof” that I couldn’t stick with it and shouldn’t bother trying. These days, I know my journal is always there for me and I can jump back in at any time.
DO: Get comfy.
In fall and winter, I love cozying up with a blanket and a cup of tea. When it’s hot out, I enjoy relaxing on my balcony with a cold drink. I find that making myself comfortable allows me to be more open and more mindful in my writing.
DON’T: Use your journal only for venting.
The cathartic release of intense feelings is one of the great benefits of journaling. But if you don’t push yourself to process your emotions and question what is coming up the train stops there. Journaling is a powerful tool for self-reflection if you’re willing to put in the effort.
DO: Let go of perfectionism.
This journal is for you. Only for you. Your handwriting does not need to be perfect. Your spelling and grammar don’t either. Accepting this was huge for me when I was first establishing journaling as a habit, and it continues to be.
If I can fall in love with journaling and develop a daily practice, anyone can. Finding my motivation and letting go of my perfectionism helped me learn to enjoy it, and the benefits are palpable. I encourage you to give it a try and take note of any changes in your mood and thoughts. Good luck!
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Nicole Carollo is a licensed esthetician and beauty enthusiast in the Chicago suburbs. Nicole is also an adult with ADHD. You can find more about her work and contact her through her website at NicoleTheresaBeauty.com.