Journaling, also known as expressive writing, is the action of writing about your thoughts and feelings to bring clarity to your emotions and yourself whilst providing numerous mental and physical health benefits in the short and long term. Expressive writing can help you if you feel lost, confused or overwhelmed by your feelings, or aid you if you’re coping with depression, anxiety or stress. The tool is scientifically proven to help track, manage and improve mental health while also aiding physical health, and even if those words don’t describe your needs there are a plethora of benefits journaling can offer you and ways you can easily implement it into your life.
Here are the top 3 ways journaling can benefit you:
1. Stress management
James W. Pennebaker, a lead researcher on journaling at the University of Texas, describes the act of writing our experiences down as helping us process and grasp events in our life in a way that feels understandable. Writing down these thoughts and feelings causes us to confront repressed emotions and subsequently process events so that we are left with a written account of what led to our current level of stress. By writing down these thoughts and events, journaling can allow us to identify what is causing our stress and therefore create a plan to tackle the source and release the stress. Alternatively, writing about the event or your feelings multiple times can cause the negative emotions associated with the event to lessen with each journal entry through repeated exposure. The process of doing this allows us to transfer all of our emotions from mind onto paper, therefore releasing tension and minimising our stress levels.
2. Reduce depression
Expressive writing has been shown to be as useful as techniques used by psychologists, like Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) for reducing depressive symptoms. After journaling for as much as 20 minutes a day for three days, people with depression reported an overall reduction in their symptoms. This is because expressive writing allows us to get to know ourselves better by making us more self aware. When writing in a journal, after getting everything down and taking a step back, you may discover in your writing the real root of what was bothering you. Psychotherapist Cynthia McKay, notes that many are shocked by the things they write. Writing things down can bring your true feelings to the surface and ground you in reality in a way that enables you to take control of and manage how you feel instead of letting it consume or overwhelm you. Another instance in which journaling prompts, like writing how you feel everyday, helps is that this aids in managing depression by tracking trends or triggers for your depression. By journaling daily or frequently, in the long term you can identify habits or situations that trigger you and learn to set healthy boundaries for yourself, or recognise which habits to minimise and avoid. Doing this allows us to reposition our perspective to be more healthy, realistic and positive over time.
3. Improve mood and health
Expressive writing has been shown to make people more optimistic and increase their overall happiness and health, in addition to making them more friendly, open and altruistic, making them better off physically, mentally and emotionally in the long term. In relation to physical health, journaling can also reduce your physical pain and symptoms as well as improve the duration and quality of your sleep. This is because journaling causes you to connect with your needs and desires and therefore become more self aware and in tune with your health by recognising unhealthy trends in your thoughts and behaviour. Once you recognise these trends through journaling you can use your journal to shift your mindset from pessimistic to optimistic while developing an improved sense of confidence and a better image of yourself and others. One way in which you can achieve this is through the prompt gratitude journaling.
Journaling prompts you can do now to get started:
A simple prompt to get you started is writing what you’re grateful for. The reasons you write can be as simple or as grand as you want. You could write one thing you’re grateful for, such as that the weather was great today, or you could create a list of the various things you’re grateful for which may look something like this:
- I’m grateful that I have access to the internet
- I’m grateful a friend checked up on me to see how I’m doing today
- I’m grateful that others enjoyed the food I made
- I’m grateful that my health is improving
If you want to get into the habit of journaling you can set aside some time everyday in the morning or afternoon to write down one thing you’re grateful for that day. Writing down things you’re grateful for can in both the short and long term shift your thoughts towards a more positive mindset and feel gratitude for what you do have rather than focusing on what you lack.
2. Worry time
If you’re the type to worry a lot or overthink things and feel anxious you can set up ‘worry time’ in your journal. Worry time if a part of the day that you allocate to focus specifically on what you’re stressed about. During this time you can write down all the things you’re anxious about. Outside of this time however, if you find yourself beginning to overthink or excessively fret over something you can say to yourself that you can save the concern for during worry time. This allows you to release tension from your mind by transferring all the things that are stressing you or that you are worried about onto paper. It also helps you keep your mind clearer during the daytime and not spend your entire day distracted and worried about different things as you know you have a scheduled time to think about and tackle what you are concerned about. By making this a frequent practice in your journal you can developed a clearer and stress free mind. How often you journal about worry time is flexible and dependent on how often you feel you need it. It can range from once a day in the evening, to once a week or once a month.
Some additional prompts include:
- Writing about your day
- Writing about a stressful event that happened
Overall, there are no strict rules to what you can journal about, and you can get as creative or routine as you desire. Your journal doesn’t need to be neat or fancy either and if you prefer, you can type it on your phone or any device. The beauty of expressive writing is that your journal is your own private space that you can tailor specifically to your needs and schedule to receive the maximum benefits for your mental and physical health.