If you have been thinking about keeping a journal but are not sure if it is worth the time and effort or how to get started, then you've come to the right place. I am going to list some of the health benefits associated with journaling, the types of journals you could have, how to focus your writing, and how to get going.
Personally, I have a rocky history with journaling. In 3rd grade my mom got me a cute little diary with a cute little lock and I thought, well if it locks, I am safe to write what I want. (Confession time: I wrote down the name of the boy I like.) Now imagine how I felt when I came home from school one day to see my diary open, with the pages ripped out, all over the bedroom??? My baby brother had gotten into it! (You would've never seen me move so quick to clean it up.)
Since then, I abandoned the idea of keeping a diary, for fear that someone might read it. Then in 6th grade we were !forced! to write a letter to our future selves. We had to spend a certain amount of time each day journaling. The teacher emphasized just writing anything down, no matter what. So I still have that 15 page letter to this day and aside from it being super cute and cheesy and also listing boys I liked, it instilled in me a passion for writing. It was the first time that I liked writing. I think it was the freedom of being able to jot down whatever I wanted, not prompted by any authority (teachers!); just me and my thoughts down on paper. Since then i've kept various forms of journals and kept some and got rid of others. It is amazing to look back and see what the younger me cared about, and remember things just as they were. So...obviously i'm on the side of keeping a journal. But I do concede that there are valid reasons for not doing so, below I will share those points as well.
Before researching this, I already thought that there must be health benefits associated with journaling but, I didn't know that there were physical health benefits! Several studies have shown health benefits in groups of people with rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, cancer, and HIV.
"Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 281, No. 14) three years ago. In the study, led by Smyth, 107 asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients wrote for 20 minutes on each of three consecutive days--71 of them about the most stressful event of their lives and the rest about the emotionally neutral subject of their daily plans.Four months after the writing exercise, 70 patients in the stressful-writing group showed improvement on objective, clinical evaluations compared with 37 of the control patients. In addition, those who wrote about stress improved more, and deteriorated less, than controls for both diseases"
There are of course also marked mental health benefits such as decreasing stress, managing anxiety, and coping with depression. Studies have shown these types of long term benefits:
Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
Improved immune system functioning
Reduced blood pressure
Improved lung function
Improved liver function
Fewer days in hospital
Feeling of greater psychological well-being
Reduced depressive symptoms before examinations
Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms
Social and behavioural outcomes
Reduced absenteeism from work
Quicker re-employment after job loss
Improved working memory
Improved sporting performance
Higher students’ grade point average
Altered social and linguistic behaviour
Types Of Journals
Now, not all journaling starts with "Dear Diary". Journaling can come in many forms like planners that have space for free writing, guided planners and journals that can help with achieving certain goals, and even therapy guided journaling for mental health. (Sign up here to get my Weekly Guided Planner sent to your email!) There are also online journals that you can try out if you don't like pen and paper and prefer to have supermax encryption. Check out the online journal platforms Penzu and Journey. In my opinion a journal is any place you choose to write and in anyway that you want to write.
Focus on Thoughts, Emotions, Behavior
There are a ton of pros to journaling, but are there cons??? Some people think so; Steven Stosny, Ph.D. warns that
"Journaling can have a negative effect on your behavior and well being if it:
Makes you live too much in your head
Makes you a passive observer of your life (thinking about how you’ll record it instead of experiencing what is happening)
Makes you self-obsessed
Becomes a vehicle of blame instead of solutions
Wallows in negative things that have happened to you."
To overcome this you need to have a clear focus and intention in your writing and the processing that it helps you do. So rather than just writing the bad thing that happened to you, you want to also write down your thoughts, emotions, and behavior associated with the events. Susan Lutgendorf, PhD says that "An individual needs to find meaning in a traumatic memory as well as to feel the related emotions to reap positive benefits from the writing exercise". James Pennebaker notes that people should find new ways to look at the experiences so that each time they grow and change, and it leads to a changed perspective, he even states that the language that people use can make a difference: "the more they use such cause-and-effect words as "because," "realize" and "understand," the more they appear to benefit."
How To Do It
Step 1: Get a journal and a pen you like!
You want to feel comfortable using the journal and writing in it. I have had journals that were too big or too small and I just didn't like them. I also look to get one that is pretty because that's me. So find something that is you!
Step 2. Create an intention for your journal.
As I said above, there are many types of journals and each of them tends to have its own intention. A Diary is for the most part a daily gathering of events and experiences. A planner helps you organize your life and keep track of important things you want to do. A bible journal may lead your studies and allow you to reflect on daily devotionals and learn verses. And of course there are many uses for people dealing with mental health issues. The university of Rochester states that
"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"
Step 3. Just do it.
Don't care about what anyone else would do, and focus on what you want. I was scared to write what I wanted for many years because I was scared of somebody reading it. I kind of think now, well, if they read it, at least it won't seem fake. Your journal doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to follow grammar or spelling rules ... you can write sideways or on every other page. It only needs to make sense to you.
I have sooo many journals, some of them are full and some have like half the pages left. I've devoted some to just mental health, just bible study, or just business, and I have some that are mixed all over. Currently I am using my daily planner as a the place to jot down my daily actions, my thoughts, the stuff I learn, the stuff I don't want to forget, and sometimes doodles. My intention is to be able to look back and see where I've come from. Just like that letter they made us write in 6th grade, I love being able to see where I've grown, where I've failed, and where I can continue to succeed.
I encourage you to pick up a journaling habit. You can also read my post on Why You Should Be Taking Notes and learn about the benefits of handwritten notes and the 2Qs I focus on in my notebooks. I really hope that you liked this post and you've found it helpful, If so, please like and share it with your people online. :) and Have a Great Day!
Opening Up by Writing It Down How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain
The Health Benefits of Journaling
Why Journal? The Science of Journaling