Could the balm for our mental health be as simple as putting pen to paper?
October 10th is World Mental Health Day. It’s been 18 months since the Covid-19 pandemic started and anxiety levels have skyrocketed. We’re all stressed, distracted, and feeling burnt out. But rather than reach for our refrigerator, liquor cabinet, or phone to doom-scroll yet again, Boly:Welch reached out to creative coach and journaling expert, Laura Rubin, founder of AllSwell, to learn about how journaling can boost our mental health. It turns out that the act of journaling can help with everything from finding your life path to preparing for an interview to becoming a more creative problem-solver and more empathetic leader.
Although she’s now an LA-based entrepreneur, Laura was for many years a successful marketing and communications expert. A life-long journaler, she was familiar with the physical and mental health benefits of mindful writing but felt that the practice had “a bit of a PR problem.” What started as a passion project has become a full-time business featured in Forbes, Martha Stewart, and on Gwyneth Paltrow’s platform Goop, among others. Her expertise is regularly called upon by organizations and brands including Adobe, Alo, Design Hotels, Fujifilm, and William Morris Endeavor.
Laura aims to help people discover their own voice, find their personal path, and believe in the radical act of unconditional self-worth. With a dedication to quality design and environmental sensitivity, she has grown her AllSwell brand to include a suite of products that encourage analog expression as well as a range of live workshops for individuals and businesses, digital experiences, and 1:1 creative coaching. AllSwell is on a mission to improve communication, spark creativity, and provide the necessary tools for insightful reflection, all while boosting mental and physical wellbeing via simple and accessible mindful writing activities.
B:W: How did your personal journaling journey begin?
LR: I started when I was eight years old. A family friend gave me my first journal. It said “Dear Diary” on the cover and had a gold lock on the side. I started journaling and never stopped. I didn’t necessarily consciously understand this as a young woman, but it’s always been an outlet and a solace for me. Not just in times of trouble, but in making decisions for myself around my business, where I wanted to live, what kind of lifestyle I wanted to cultivate for myself. Journaling was my way of reconnecting with my own internal voice.
We live in such a hall of mirrors, particularly now with social media. But even prior to that – because I’m old enough to remember – we’ve been influenced by what we think other people want for us. It’s cultural, it’s familial, it’s geographic, it’s gender-oriented. It’s all these pieces of programming we’re running unconsciously. But when we can step away and reconnect through the written word with our own internal voice, there’s tremendous wisdom there.
B:W: How did AllSwell start?
LR: It was intended to be a passion project I was bringing out into the world because I believed in the positive impact of putting pen to paper. And it was only through creating a product (AllSwell journals) that I began the dialogue with the market and learned, much to my surprise, this thing that had always been so accessible to me wasn’t to others.
I heard people didn’t know how to journal, or they thought they were bad at journaling. They didn’t know where to start, they didn’t know how to stick with it, they weren’t sure they were doing it right. All these things that had never occurred to me because it had always been intuitive. That was where the impetus for my workshops came from. I figured if I could combine my experience as a journalist, as an editor, as a communications professional in experiential marketing, understanding what cultural levers I could pull to make the experience more enjoyable for people, maybe I could invite more folks to the page.
B:W: Is there a right way to journal? An instruction manual?
LR: Fundamentally, there is no “wrong” way to journal.
I ascribe to an analog form of journaling. But if people say they use the Notes application on their phone or a computer, I would rather have them utilize some form of personal self-expression than not. However, having this simple ritual of putting pen to paper really helps to clear away the clutter. Also, in some of the research I’ve done, the mental, emotional, and even physiological benefits that are associated with journaling are heightened through the motor action of moving your hand across the page. There are synaptic connections made in your brain that amplify the positive effects. So, for those reasons, I personally ascribe to a consistent pen-to-paper practice.
In my workshops, I move people through journaling activities to warm them up – we stretch before we jog, jog before we run, run before we sprint. I don’t ask people to dive right into the deep end. By the end of the workshop they’re limber, in their creative zone.
There’s also no instruction manual per se, but I created a deck of journaling prompts a couple of years ago with psychiatrist Dr. Monisha Vasa. A blank page can be really intimidating. A lot of folks had come to me and said, “I love the workshops, but I need more support. Would you be interested in making an app?” The last thing I want to do is to drive people to use their phones more. So, what I did was I created a deck of 52 cards with a write and draw prompt on each. They’re analog, inexpensive, thoughtfully made on paper that has been certified to be from reputable sources. We’ve done everything we possibly can to make this feel good. You just shuffle them up, pick a prompt, and use that as your jumping off point.
It’s a little like flossing. I’d rather have you floss a few times a week than not at all. But, if you do it consistently, you’re really going to get the benefits. Journaling boosts your immune system. It even speeds wound healing. So, I try to make it fun, make it feel good, and provide a lot of different starting points.
“Journaling provides a space where you can express yourself just for yourself.” — Laura Rubin
B:W: Why journaling as a creative practice, as opposed to other art forms like singing or painting?
LR: Journaling is not a silver bullet, but in this time when we’re in a near constant state of respond/react, journaling provides a space where you can express yourself just for yourself. It’s an accessible tool. There’s almost no cost barrier. All you need is a writing implement and a couple sheets of paper. You don’t even need to have good grammar or great handwriting. None of the studies I’ve read stated “if your handwriting isn’t any good, don’t bother because you won’t get any of the benefits.” You don’t have to be sitting down for 45 minutes in just the right chair with your perfect matcha sounding like Joan Didion to journal. There’s no way to be bad at it.
You can still paint, or sing, or take photographs, make a beautiful meal and set an incredible table. But journaling is devoid of any audience. There’s no intended reader or third party. There’s no intended viewer. There is nobody you’re performing for. You can express yourself in a way that’s utterly private.
B:W: You’ve mentioned that journaling has an actual quantifiable benefit to our psychological and physical wellbeing. Can you touch upon some of those studies?
LR: One study that came out of UCLA about the gender difference rocked my world. All the mental, emotional, and physiological benefits of journaling are 30% greater for men. 30%! At first, I was like, “I don’t get it.” But it’s because, culturally speaking, men have so few forms of sanctioned self-expression. It’s that much more important for them to be able to journal, because unlike women – and I’m speaking in massive cultural generalizations here – women have the ability to speak to one another about things. I had an embarrassing day? I have four friends on speed dial I can talk to. Men don’t necessarily have that same level of permission, and that’s why journaling is so much more beneficial for them. The stereotype of journaling is teen girl angst and fuzzy slippers and all these deeply feminized things, but it’s this remarkable tool for men. AllSwell is trying to move that conversation forward and make sure that journaling is accessible for all.
B:W: What benefits do you see for a candidate who’s looking to make themselves stand out in this unique job market. How does journaling tie into their job search, their clarity, their goals?
LR: We typically associate journaling with emotional health and that’s true. However, it’s also a tool for vision, creativity, and clarity. This idea of being able to get really clear on what it is you want to do and then break down the steps you need to take to get there – those are the kinds of exercises I use through my one-to-one creative coaching.
Just because someone is good at a lot of things doesn’t mean that all of them are things that they should pursue professionally. What is going to light you up? What is going to excite you? What is going to help you kick the covers off in the morning? And how does that align with your skillset? Journaling through all of that is going to help you get much clearer on what it is you want to do. And when you know what you want to do, then you can speak to recruiters and hiring managers with clarity. You’ve got better conviction. Ultimately, you’re a healthier, happier, more well-balanced individual, which is also going to make you a better candidate.
B:W: Do you feel that journaling would be beneficial for hiring managers, or even internal employees to boost morale?
LR: One-thousand percent. Every single one of us is a creative being. I’m not saying we’re all artists, but every single person on this planet is intrinsically creative. We’re taught that we are either creative or we’re not, but that’s an inaccurate duality. Regardless of what job you have, you’ll benefit from journaling – particularly C-suite or managerial level where you are responsible for vision and decision-making and interacting with human beings – it is going to make you a more creative problem-solver and more empathetic team manager.
At Boly:Welch, we’ve long believed in bringing your whole self to work. Rather than looking at people through the lens of business, we look at them as humans. Our recruiters help people learn about themselves, so that they can discover the purposeful contributions they can make through their job and in the world. Whatever your role, understanding people and seeing their whole selves (as opposed to a job description) helps to understand their needs and desires. Going beyond the resume is a critical way to best recognize those motivations and helps build more productive and happier teams.
Whether you already have a writing practice or you’re curious about starting one, there are obviously profound mental, professional, and physiological rewards of journaling. Make some time today to take a digital break and pick up a pen and paper and see what flows.
Here are some writing prompts to get you started (courtesy of Psych Central):
- How do you use your personal strengths and abilities at work?
- How do your co-workers and supervisors recognize your strengths?
- How does work fulfill you? Does it leave you wanting more?
- What part of your workday do you most enjoy?
- What about your work feels real, necessary, or important to you?
- Do you see yourself in the same job in three years?
- What are your career ambitions?
- What three things can help you begin working to accomplish those goals?
- What can you do to improve your work performance?
- What does your work teach you? Does it offer continued opportunities for learning and growth?
- Does your work drain or overwhelm you? Why? Is this something you can change?
Learn more about World Mental Health Day here.