SCIENCE-BACKED ADVICE ON THE BENEFITS OF JOURNALING
Since I was five years old and knew how to formulate full-blown sentences, albeit elementary, I have kept a journal — although back then I referred to it as a diary. As I matured and “diary” carried an adolescent connotation, I started to “journal.”
Yet, I would give anything today to go back and read that red polka-dotted Minnie Mouse diary I carried around with me. To see the eyes through that five-year old girl, who is now…well, not five.
Not only is keeping a journal a good record of your life, it also is proof of your triumphs. I can’t count how many times I was distraught over a breakup and thought I’d never recover to find myself a year later rereading the poems and emo-style writing, realizing how much better off I am.
Journaling provides an avenue to tickle the paper with all your secrets that you’d never tell your friend, or your deepest fears that you’re still working through. It’s free therapy and actually has a lot of science to back up the positive benefits.
Anyone can write words on a paper. Much like Twitter, you can write about your day or what you had for lunch. But it’s actually when you start to delve deeper into your feelings and thoughts that you produce better results.
Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc, in positivepsychology.com writes about how effective journaling has many benefits:
Journaling can be effective for many different reasons and help you reach a wide range of goals. It can help you clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and even buffer or reduce the effects of mental illness!
Before bed, my mind races with the events of the day as well as the anticipated events of tomorrow. It seems as if all the energy I tried to muster up during the day is quarantined and saved solely for the purpose of keeping me up at night.
I’ve found that a nightly journaling routine allows me to relocate all the thoughts that are running around in my brain and store them safely inside my not-diary. This is a timely process, so I will prepare for bed earlier than when I actually intend to sleep.
My journaling sessions usually take 20–30 minutes, although they have been known to go marathon-style to an hour or more. And yes, I make sure to load up on protein the next morning.
This length of writing time allows me to express my thoughts and feelings without judgment and really get into a flow. Since I don’t intend people to read my journals — that is, until I’m dead and they’re turned into brilliant manuscripts — I can be as explicit and honest as I need.
I am aware of the immense benefits of journaling, so I don’t mind my early nighttime routine. It reduces my stress and helps keep my mental health, well, healthy.
Journaling can help you:
Cope with depression
Journaling helps control your symptoms and improve your mood by:
Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them
Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors
Source: Journaling for Mental Health
Journaling creates a space for an intimate connection. If we are unable to write about our thoughts and feelings on paper, it would be hard to share that out loud with a friend. Therefore, I view my diary, I mean, journal, as a friend. A sympathetic, non-judgmental ear for which I can word vomit all over whenever I want.
Rita Milios’ article about addiction recovery, Journaling as an Aid to Recovery, echoes this, “Studies have shown that journaling encourages the writer to disclose emotions with less fear of criticism.”
When we can find a channel free of fear and judgment, it’s a sacred space where new insights are possible.
Writing about my life and my goals, aspirations, and fears every day, allows me to make a lot of discoveries and begin the process of healing past wounding.
It is through our awareness that we are able to produce change. Without knowing something exists prevents an impetus or need for adjustment.
For example, if your car engine light doesn’t come on, you wouldn’t know that it was time to take it in to the shop and therefore, you would continue to drive around with an engine in need of repair.
The same goes for our personal development. If I’m unaware that I have a problem in my life, there’s nothing for me to inspect or fix. Although, I’ve been known to drive around even when I knew my check engine light was on and chose to ignore it, metaphorically and literally.
Writing down your feelings about a particularly difficult event or life challenge can actually help you through it:
If you are suffering in the aftermath of a traumatic event, journaling can help you find the good in life. It can even help you see the positive side of experiencing the trauma, which helps reduce the severe symptoms that can accompany trauma (Ackerman).
There are a few things more painful than loss. Whether it be the loss of a relationship or a more permanent loss, like the death of loved one, the feelings of grief can be overwhelming and suffocating.
According to Ackerman, MSc, “Writing can give you a chance to process your enormous loss and reduce the most severe symptoms of grief.”
By providing your feelings and thoughts around the loss a place to be expressed, you are able to make new discoveries and work through the grief. When we don’t allow this to happen, we are actually damaging and preventing our recovery.
It is theorized that actively repressing difficult thoughts and feelings requires effort and acknowledging and writing about these feelings reduces overall stress in the body. Translating an event into words helps one understand it and make meaning of it, which contributes to additional positive outcomes.
By using effective journaling as a tool to move through difficult life experiences you can help to increase your mental and physical health. The act of repressing feelings keeps the energy stored in your body, whereas, allowing them to come up and spill out onto the paper removes the stress, as well as helps to find answers.
Have you ever asked yourself, “Who am I?” This existential, self-reflecting, personal question has plagued me since I was a child. I’m sure my little five-year old self would ponder this in her diary along with the meaning of life and which came first, the chicken or the egg. Unfortunately, the diary is gone and this claim can neither be proven, nor disproven…
If you grabble with an ever-shifting feeling of identity, you’re not alone. With new experiences and relationships, we are constantly becoming new people.
It is natural to feel like a different person after a big event occurs and journaling can help to provide clarity:
Writing our thoughts, feelings, and actions down in a journal allows us to craft and maintain our sense of self and solidifies our identity. It helps us reflect on our experiences and discover our authentic self (Ackerman).
By expressing your true feelings and thoughts on paper, you are gaining insight into what your beliefs are. If you pay attention to what you’re writing, you can discover your set of principles in which you view the world.
With technology constantly increasing and as new decades of age inevitably approach, we are forced to question how we fit into the world.
In Keeping a Journal: A Path to Uncovering Identity (and keeping your sanity), Cooper writes:
Writing in the journal can help us understand both who we are and what we are doing with our lives. This task is even more complex because, as we write, things change. This is a compelling reason to write regularly…in order to keep up with changing events.
So there you have it. Reasons why journaling is not only good for your health, but also good for a sense of self.
Decrease your stress, improve your mood, heal your emotions, and learn who you are by simply putting pen to paper.
What are you waiting for? Go discover you.