When you think of a “diary,” you may imagine a young teen scribbling away about her daily woes. Or maybe world-famous journals like Anne Frank’s diary details her story as a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust.
In reality, journaling is not reserved for any gender or age; it’s a beneficial practice that can help us in many important ways.
While many of us keep up with social media or digital blogs, very few of us utilize a journal to write down our thoughts, experiences, and feelings. The act of journaling is a necessary form of self-care that many of us have lost touch with.
Here are some of the reasons why you should consider journaling.
When you first start thinking about journaling, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in what it should look like that you never start doing it. Does journaling have it be with pen and paper? What format should the journal be in? What’s considered a journal?
Journaling is a comprehensive, simple concept that you can meld to fit your preferences. At its core, journaling is just a written thought and record of your thoughts and feelings. Often, it’s a short daily exercise, and therefore it serves as an excellent way to track your everyday life. Through journaling, you can develop a meaningful connection with yourself; you can learn more about what sparks different emotions in you.
Based on the definition of journaling, it can be what you want it to be. Perhaps your journal is in a physical notebook, or maybe it’s in word documents or on a private blog. Maybe you detail in paragraphs, writing to an “imaginary friend” or yourself in the future, or maybe you create shortlists and snippets of what’s going on in your mind. There are also guided journals that ask you to fill out a few questions each day or write down what you’re grateful for. The point is that journaling is whatever and however you want it to be, and whatever format helps you create a habit out of it.
When you journal, you are not speaking with a therapist or expert, so how does it function as self-care? Writing is a form of organization, so by keeping a journal, you can organize events and make a better sense of them. By writing, you label emotions and acknowledge upsetting events, which are potent processes. Journaling will help you:
These processes have many benefits that we’ll break down, like improving memory and sleep quality.
Journaling, as small and straightforward as it may be, has many profound benefits for our health. The top benefits of journaling are:
When we are overwhelmed or dealing with difficult events, it’s easy for us to hold onto negative thoughts. All negativity and excessive thinking result in a physical and psychological stress response that can be dangerous if it occurs for a long time. Journaling allows you to write down your feelings and put them somewhere else other than your mind. Just expressing those feelings and anxieties in writing can help you let go of some tension. One study found that a particular type of journaling, Positive Affect Journaling (PAJ), helped increase well-being and mitigate mental distress¹.
Busy, hectic times can easily create disorganized thoughts, making it harder to accomplish everything you need to. Writing down our thoughts helps keep them organized. You can use your journal to tag and archive your entities about thoughts and feelings. Still, you can also write about your obligations and plans. Bullet journals, which are essentially lists, are incredibly useful for keeping yourself organized each day.
How many times have you heard someone proclaim grand New Year’s goals only to have them fall by the wayside within a couple of months (or less)? One of the best ways to help you achieve your goals is to write them down. A study from Dominican University reveals that 43% of people who write down their goals achieve them². Share the goals with a friend and send weekly updates, and you’re 33% more successful in accomplishing them.
Writing down your goals makes them tangible. It alerts your brain that the information is essential, and you have physical proof to look back on. You can journal about your aspirations and record/monitor your progress so that you continue to keep your goals at the forefront of your mind.
Often we have problems that we mull over, unable to come to the right conclusions. Journaling can help with problem-solving³. Writing down your problems along with your goals can help you reflect on the moment and think deeper about potential solutions. Writing forces us to slow down and take our time when parsing out an idea, which may help you see new angles or look at the issue differently. By stopping to reflect on ourselves and the problem at hand, you can find ways to improve.
At all stages of life, but mostly as we get older, it’s essential to continue to stimulate our minds in ways that help preserve our memory. Research has found that journaling helps improve working memory⁴. By helping you rid your mind of negative thoughts and events, expressive writing frees up your mind for other mental activities like working memory. Suppose you have stressors and emotions taking up your mind. In that case, you won’t be able to dedicate the resources you need to memory and problem-solving. The authors of the study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (JEP: General) found that writing about a problem for 20 minutes helps your physical and mental health and cognitive abilities like memory⁴.
Journaling is not only good for mental health, but it is also incredible for your physical health. As we know, all Eight Dimensions of Wellness are connected. It’s no surprise that an activity like journaling which has so many substantial benefits for our mental health, can also help us improve physically.
Some of the ways journaling improves our physical health are:
Most new journalers drag their feet about what to write about. It’s one of the biggest questions people have about journaling. The answer entirely depends on you. You may not know what exactly you need to write about until you start writing. Once you begin writing something, then you may realize other thoughts you are having that you want to jot down. You do not need to write an award-winning novel or thought-provoking insights. It would help if you wrote whatever is on your mind.
Start by starting. Write whatever comes to mind as it comes to mind. When you’re journaling, you’re free to stop mid-sentence and completely change courses if that’s what happens in your thoughts.
If you do have a particularly traumatic or upsetting experience writing about it is very helpful. A 1988 study found that writing about “traumatic or disturbing experiences” has the most benefit on your overall well-being⁸.
Maybe when you are just starting, nothing particular upsetting comes to mind. Understandably, blurting out a “stream of consciousness” is also tricky for some people at first. If you are stuck on getting started, here are a few ideas of things you could begin journaling about:
It’s never too late to start journaling! Here are some tips to help you get started:
Journaling is a simple act of self-care that can help us at any stage of life. You don’t need any fancy equipment or hours a day to obtain the fantastic mental and physical health benefits of journaling. All you need to do is write down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences however you want to.
(1) Smyth, JM et al. (December 2018) Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial
(2) Gardner, S; Albee, D (2015) Study focuses on strategies for achieving goals, resolutions
(3) Fritson, KK (n.d.) Impact of Journaling on Students’ Self-Efficacy and Locus of Control
(4) American Psychological Association (n.d.) Journal of Experimental Psychology: General®
(5) Murray, B (June 2002) Writing to heal
(6) Rodriguez, T (November 2013) Writing Can Help Injuries Heal Faster
(8) Pennebaker, JW (1997) Opening up: The healing power of expressing emotions (Rev. ed.)