A place to unwind: journaling for an HSP

For some reason I have always found the last quarter of the year quite stressful. Heading back to school or uni, or back to work after a summer holiday certainly require some settling in time. And after that there only seem to be a couple of weeks left before everyone is talking about Christmas! The upcoming bright lights and increasing social demands can be an exciting time for many. But for those who identify as a highly sensitive person, or HSP, this can be a difficult season. Making time to withdraw, de-stress and recharge is vital, and journaling for an HSP can create a place to unwind and focus on personal wellbeing.

What does Highly Sensitive Person mean?

Psychologist Elaine Aron started researching high sensory-processing sensitivity with her husband, Arthur Aron, in the 1990s. Through their research questions, they identified HSP as a personality profile that is different from being an introvert, highly emotional or neurotic. The questions covered reactions to music, art, physical environments and busy days. Individuals with high sensory-processing sensitivity react strongly to both internal and external stimuli. They can struggle with bright lights and loud noises, as well as be particularly sensitive to violence, hunger and tension. This can sometimes make the world difficult for an HSP, but there are benefits to this sensitivity as well. An HSP will often be able to intuit the emotions of people around them and react earlier to changes in their environment.

HSP are also often highly creative, with a rich internal life and strong emotional relationships. It’s expected that approximately 15 to 20% of people can be classed as an HSP, according to Aron’s scale. Further research into HSPs has explored the causes of high sensory-processing sensitivity as well as the ways in which it can be identified and treated. With the research ongoing, HSPs have come up with their own coping mechanisms to protect their mental health. These include using noise-cancelling headphones, avoiding caffeine and making time to de-stress with activities such as journaling.

Chatting to someone about all of your worries can be really hard but writing them all down can still be a huge relief. Try creating a “brain dump” spread to let some of those worries go and feel a little lighter.

The benefits of journaling

There’s a wealth of research that shows journaling is beneficial for mental health and personal wellbeing. As well as reducing stress, there is even evidence that journaling can help improve your immune system! Journaling for an HSP can create a sense of routine, help with organisation or provide a place to unwind in peace and quiet. The pages of a notebook or a laptop’s blinking cursor can be a private, non-judgemental space for self-expression. Moving anxieties or emotions out of your mind and onto the page can create clarity, compassion and understanding for yourself.

I personally find journaling useful for avoiding feeling overwhelmed. A notebook where I can write down my aims, both long and short term, and actually see them makes them a lot easier to deal with and achieve.

Did you know that colouring or doodling has a similar effect on your body to meditating? It can lower your blood pressure and create a sense of calm. Why not set aside twenty minutes to pop your headphones on and draw on a page of your notebook. And… relax!

Which way to journal?

There’s no right or wrong way to try journaling for an HSP, but with all the guides out there, it can be difficult to know where to start. To be honest, the only real way to find out which journaling technique is best for your wellbeing is by trying some out! Some people find routine journaling relaxing, but I often feel restricted by a strict schedule. This means that one of the methods I particularly like to use to de-stress is a brain dump journal.

The Merriam-Webster definition of a brain dump is ‘comprehensively and uncritically expressing and recording one’s thoughts’. Unlike a brainstorm, where a single idea is explored in detail, a brain dump journal involves a stream of conscious. Write down anything taking up space in your head. As a less structured journaling method, it’s perfect for exploring emotions that aren’t clear. And it can help clarify anxieties or situations that take up mental energy and leave you feeling drained. It’s common for HSPs or introverts to feel overwhelmed, so understanding where these feelings come from is a powerful way to de-stress.

A brain dump can even be integrated into bullet journaling (or “bujo” for short). Bujo removes the rigid lines of a planner to let you connect the dots of life. Our guide to bullet journaling explains it in more detail, but simply put, bujo offers the flexibility to add anything you want to your journal. With a choice of blank, lined or dotted pages, a Billy customised notebook is perfect for this customised journaling style!

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