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:
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
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 a