What Is Journaling?
Journaling is a term coined for the practice of keeping a diary or journal that explores thoughts and feelings surrounding the events of one’s life. Journaling, as a stress management and self-exploration tool, is not the same as simply recording the happenings in one’s life, like keeping a log. To be most helpful, one must write in detail about feelings and cognitions related to stressful events, as one would discuss topics in therapy.
What Are The Benefits of Journaling?
Journaling allows people to clarify their thoughts and feelings, thereby gaining valuable self-knowledge. It’s also a good problem-solving tool; oftentimes, one can hash out a problem and come up with solutions more easily on paper. Journaling about traumatic events helps one process them by fully exploring and releasing the emotions involved, and by engaging both hemispheres of the brain in the process, allowing the experience to become fully integrated in one’s mind.
As for the health benefits of journaling, they’ve been scientifically proven. Research shows the following:
• Journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions.
• It improves cognitive functioning.
• It strengthens the immune system, preventing a host of illnesses.
• It counteracts many of the negative effects of stress.
1. Buy a Journal – This seems like the obvious first step. However, what kind of a journal you purchase is important. You can choose from the most beautiful blank books you can find, to a more functional notebook, to your computer. If you go with the blank book option, you can decide between lined or blank pages, with a variety of pens. Use your book to reflect your creativity, or go with functionality first. It’s all up to you and your tastes.
2. Set Aside Time – One of the most difficult aspects of journaling is not the journaling itself, but finding time to write. It’s important to block off about twenty minutes each day to write. Many people prefer to write in the morning as a way to start their day, or before bed, as a way to reflect upon and process the day’s events. However, if your lunch break or some other time is the only window you have, take the time whenever you can get it!
3. Begin Writing – Don’t think about what to say; just begin writing, and the words should come. If really need some help getting started, here are some topics to begin the process:
• Your dreams
• Your possible purpose in life
• Your childhood memories and surrounding feelings
• Where you’d like to be in two years
• The best and worst days of your life
• If you could have three wishes…
• What was important to you five years ago, and what’s important to you now
• What are you grateful for?
4. Write About Thoughts and Feelings – As you write, don’t just vent negative emotions or catalog events; write about your feelings, but also your thoughts surrounding emotional events. (Research shows much greater benefits from journaling when participants write about emotional issues from a mental and emotional framework.) Relive events emotionally, and try to construct solutions and ‘find the lesson’. Using both aspects of yourself helps you process the event and find solutions to problems.
5. Keep Your Journal Private – If you’re worried that someone else may read your journal, you’re much more likely to self-censor, and you won’t achieve the same benefits from writing. To prevent the worry and maximize journaling effectiveness, you can either get a book that locks or keep your book in a locked or very hidden place. If using a computer, you can password-protect your journal so you’ll feel safe when you write.
Tips for Journaling:
1. Try to write each day.
2. Writing for at least 20 minutes is ideal, but if you only have 5 minutes, write for 5.
3. If you skip a day or 3, just keep writing when you can.
4. Don’t worry about neatness or even grammar. Just getting your thoughts and feelings on paper is more important than perfection.
5. Try not to self-censor; let go of ‘shoulds’, and just write what comes.