It’s been five months since the coronavirus crisis changed our lives and reshaped society. In a year, or even a decade, from now, how will you recall the pandemic of 2020? Perhaps you’d rather not remember!
Keeping a log of your experiences and thoughts can help you work through and remember these strange days. I started a journal when the shutdown began in March; in doing so, I joined the ancient historical and cultural tradition of putting pen to paper and letting my thoughts spill out. Writing without stopping to add punctuation or worrying about sentence construction or spelling—simply writing—can be a powerful and cathartic tool for self-understanding and a way to process our current circumstances.
Not only is journaling a way to record your life experiences, I’ve found that it calms my mind and improves my self-awareness. Experts say journaling is also an excellent tool for improving your mental health: it helps manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression.
I started a journal in an old blank notebook I found in a free box (pre-COVID, I assure you!). Keeping a diary to remember difficult times is an age-old habit (Samuel Pepys famously recorded his experiences during the Bubonic Plague), but one I had never been able to retain for more than a few days. Now I’m realizing the surprising benefits of journaling. Writing at the end of the day helps me identify the things in life that are really stressing me out, so I have time to work through them. I find that after I spend about 20 minutes writing in my journal, the stresses of the day and the heaviness of the world around me feel more manageable.
How to Start a Journal
Keep a paper and pen handy. Try to write every day, but don’t stress or get discouraged if you skip a day or even a week. Don’t write for an audience. Try to imagine that no one will ever read your thoughts except you.
Connecticut College has compiled a list of journal prompts to help their students work through their COVID-19 experiences. Below, are a few of them.
Reflecting on the New (yet temporary) Normal
- What has changed in your day-to-day life since COVID-19 became “a thing”?
- Which changes have caused the greatest imposition(s)?
- Which changes have led to the most distress?
- Which changes, if any, have been pleasantly surprising?
- Which changes have led to some relief of distress?
- Are there ways you may be of service to your local friends, family, and community members at this time? What might that look like?
Share Your Journal
A number of organizations are collecting journals of the pandemic. Here are two options for sharing yours:
A Journal of the Plague Year, A curatorial collaborative initiated by Arizona State University, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
Women Writing History: A Coronavirus Journaling Project, National Women’s History Museum
Journaling for Mental Health, University of Rochester Medical Center, Health Encyclopedia
What Historians Will See When They Look Back on the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020, New York Times, April 15, 2020
Why We Should All Be Keeping Coronavirus Journals by Katherine Sharp Landdeck, Time, April 24, 2020
Written by April