The Benefits of Journaling
I got my first diary when I was five. One of those cute fuzzy ones with the cheap lock that didn’t actually protect your secrets. I was obsessed with writing in it for years until I grew up and dismissed the activity as juvenile.
Writing in a diary is depicted in pop culture as something reserved for love-struck pre-teens drawing hearts around their crush’s name. But it can be so much more than that. There’s something liberating about putting your thoughts to paper. If only we were taught how to cultivate a valuable tool like journaling instead of being made to feel childlike for doing it. There are so many ways that journaling can add value to your life!
Maybe you want to let your feelings out but you’re too embarrassed to tell anyone. Maybe you want to talk to someone but they’re not available to listen, or maybe you’re like me and need to sort out your thoughts on paper before you’re able to verbalize them.
Writing your thoughts down is a form of communication. It’s a conversation with yourself and it can help prepare for conversations with others. It can be a surrogate for a conversation you’ll never be able to have. Whomever the communication is directed at, journaling can help you piece your feelings and ideas together into cohesion.
There is magic in immortalizing our thoughts. They’re consistently in flux as our emotions change and as we evolve, but reading over past thoughts is useful in gaining perspective. We can make connections and notice patterns that would otherwise go unnoticed. This step is crucial in gaining the ability to alter destructive or harmful thoughts, such as my tendency to eat an impressive amount of cake when I’m feeling guilty for procrastinating a task I really don’t want to do.
Taking the time to articulate your thoughts in writing can help you be more self-aware.
If not to change our behaviour, there is most certainly value in observing and appreciating it. Just as we relish in getting to know a new lover or friend, we should put effort into getting to know who we are. The most intimate relationship we ever have is with ourselves but most of us avoid taking a mindful look in the mirror. Learn which qualities you love. Learn which ones might be off-putting to others. Learn your communication style so you can effectively practice it. Become self-aware.
As a result of the aforementioned reasons, journaling has shown to improve mental health, even with illnesses such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety.
The exercise is not only cathartic, allowing you to release your emotions by externalizing them, but it also creates a safe space to face those emotions. By being honest about your feelings on the page and evaluating how they compare to your behaviour, this can help distinguish the difference between the two. All emotions are valid, but it’s our actions that define us. Accepting emotions and thoughts for what they are can end the cycle of guilt.
Journaling is also more than a therapeutic mind exercise. Physically writing your thoughts out by hand helps reduce racing thoughts because your hand can only write so fast, forcing your mind to slow down. Whether you suffer from anxiety or are just feeling stressed, this can be a form of meditation with immediate physical effects.
There are even studies suggesting that journaling can help with physical health by strengthening immune systems, reducing blood pressure and improving sleep. Journaling seems to be healthy in all sorts of ways!
Types of Journaling
“These reasons are great and all, but I’m just not good at journaling. I don’t like it. It’s so boring”
You, my friend, are mistaken. No one is bad at journaling. A bad journaler is simply a person who hasn’t found their individual journaling style yet. The secret to journaling is you can journal in whichever way that helps you express yourself because a journal should be for your eyes only, erasing the fear of judgement on the “quality” of your writing. There are no rules on how to journal. The issue is that most people think of journaling exclusively as writing a stream of consciousness which can be a tedious yawnfest to many, but here are some examples of different introspection styles that might resonate more with you:
- Bullet point lists
- Comparative lists
- Mind maps
The most important thing about journaling is cultivating a relationship with yourself through mindfulness and continuity. You should try to create a structure or routine for yourself as to format and frequency, but ultimately, it’s up to you what you write, and how you write it. You might be surprised at how easily the thoughts flow out of you.