There’s simply no better way to learn about your thought processes than to write them down.Barbara Markway
Why journaling is important
Journaling is one of the cheapest (and underestimated) forms of therapy. While it has been gaining popularity in recent years, there are so many more people who can benefit from the simple act of journaling.
Essentially, keeping a journal allows you to sort through your feelings and events in your life, and helps you understand them.
It is important to note that if you’re struggling with mental health issues, journaling does not replace professional help. It’s not a magical solution, and it may take some time before it starts to help. If necessary, please find a professional.
How journaling helps mental health
Aside from the bigger mental health problems I’ll discuss below, journaling has also been said to help with (*)
- A sense of wellbeing (*)
- Better moods (*)
- Reduced problems after trauma (*)
- Controlling emotions(*)
- General mental health(*)
- Prioritizing problems, fears and concerns
- Positive self-talk & letting go of negative thoughts
- Putting things in perspective
- Taking action (*)
Daily journaling practice has even been said to
- Stimulate your creativity (*)
- Help you reach your goals (*)
- Leave daily stress in your journal
- Learning patterns in your life (thoughts & triggers)
- Help learn about yourself
- Be a great way to keep memories (*)
Journaling can also help some specific mental health problems such as
Daily writing can help decrease physical symptoms and medical conditions related to anxiety. Barbara Markway has stated that journaling can help us identify harmful thought patterns, which allows us to tackle them more effectively.
It is a great way to see how we talk to ourselves, and how we can improve on it and speak more positively to ourselves.
By journaling regularly, we can get find out where our anxiety is really coming from.
I also touched upon this in a different article, but our brain is wired to worry about things to come. However, writing those things down can trick the mind into thinking they’re already done, therefore it will calm down. So writing about upcoming situations that give you anxiety can actually make your brain relax a bit!
There are multiple studies done on the effect of journaling on depression, and they have found great results. While journaling does not necessarily reduce the number of negative thoughts for these people, it has reduced the impact these thoughts have on their wellbeing. This helped them reduce the symptoms of their depression. (*)
One study found that women who have suffered abuse from their partner have found some relief from their depression symptoms by journaling regularly. (*)
Another study has shown that writing can help high-risk young adults reduce their depression symptoms as well. (*)
A third study has found that people with MDD (Major depressive disorder) felt better after 3 days of journaling 20 minutes a day. (*)
A journal is an excellent way to relieve stress. It forces you to focus on yourself and your inner world, and ignore what’s going on outside it for a little while. Check in with yourself, how you feel, what emotions you’re experiencing and what’s going on in your life.
By noting the things that do or don’t make you feel good, you can then adapt your life and try to cut out the things that don’t make you happy, while doing more things that do make you happy.
Writing things down and then throwing out the paper or (carefully) setting it on fire can also help you let go of things and release the emotions associated with them.
Also, the benefits it gives those suffering from anxiety can be transferred to help with stress. So letting go of worries about future events, improving positive self-talk and understanding what the real cause of our stress is, can all help us reduce the stress in our lives.
Where to start with journaling
Starting to journal can be quite overwhelming. My beginning was very rocky, but that was mostly because of my own mind. I felt like a teenage girl, writing in her diary about how her crush looked at her in math class. My mind was judging me harder than anyone else ever will. So the most important step is to let go of that judgment. Let your journal be a place of non-judgment, where you can be 100% open and honest about your feelings. Journaling won’t help you if you’re not being honest.
Some recommend writing daily, some recommend writing whenever it suits you. In my experience, in the beginning, it’s good to do it daily. Create a habit, and write every single day. Try to schedule it, if you find yourself not having time for it. Then at a certain point, you’ll notice you can tell when you need/want to write and it’s fine to let go of the everyday habit.
The same idea counts for how much you should write. Some say a page a day, some say 10 minutes a day. I think whatever makes you comfortable. I try to write at least one page a day, but sometimes it is less. You can also give yourself parameters like 1 page or 10 minutes, whichever comes first. But if you’re sticking to a time, make sure you don’t spend half of it on your phone or daydreaming.
Write continuously. Followers of the morning pages write 3 pages every day, and they don’t stop writing until those 3 pages are full. That means, they don’t take a break. Not even a 30 second thinking break. Whatever pops up in your head, write it down. Even if you end up with 3 pages of ‘i don’t know’, then write that.
Don’t worry about grammar too much. The important thing is to put things down and process through the, not to do that in a grammatically correct fashion. As long as you understand what you wrote, it doesn’t matter.
Keep pen and paper close to you. Bring your journal places. I notice I write the most when I’m on trips, as I keep my journal with me all day. You could keep your journal on your phone, but most agree that the biggest benefits and changes come from writing things down.
Write whatever you want. It’s your place, and there is no judgment. Write about world peace, the dogs you pet in the park or your crush.
Write in a place that feels safe to you. Whether that is your bedroom, kitchen, bathtub or favourite cafe. As long as you feel safe and comfortable, it works.
If you want writing to help you process things, it is good to actually write about those things. Write about events and feelings.
How to benefit from journaling – The WRITE method.
So even though you can write whatever, whenever, however, there are (of course) some researchers who have made this a study (*). According to them, this is the best way to use your journal:
W- What do you want to write about?
R– Review or reflect. Think about what you wrote, and check in with your emotions. How do you feel, what are you thinking? What do you want at this moment?
I – Investigate. Keep writing while you process these thoughts, feelings and desires. Put them to paper and keep asking yourself those questions.
T – Time yourself. They suggest making sure you write for at least 5 minutes.
E – Exit. Summarize your entry, and write down any bigger patterns you notice.
What to write when journaling
I know it can be hard to start writing. So like I said, try to write in a calm, safe environment and just start. Don’t judge yourself, just keep going. To get you started I have written down some questions and points for consideration.
- How are you feeling today?
- What do you think influenced how you’re feeling today?
- Write a letter to someone, or yourself
- Write about something you’re going through in life.
- Describe your day. What happened, and how did those events make you feel?
- Get to the bottom of your anxiety by writing about it continuously.
- If you have some unresolved things from the past, describe those and how you feel about them as well
- Write down affirmations for yourself. Writing them puts them on the forefront of your thinking, making it easier to reap the positive effects from them.
- Gratitude! A gratitude journal is a great way to bring more happiness into your life. Start by writing 5 things every day, and work your way up to more if you want to.
Do you see how taking 10-20 minutes a day can actually transform your mental health? It is such a simple act, but it can have such a big impact on your life when done properly.
I hope you will give it a try, and let me know if you do! I love hearing from you and I am very curious if you are trying it.
If you enjoyed this article you might also like my other article on improving your mental health.
Happy weekend! <3