Journaling is one of the most popular suggestions from mental health professionals for individuals who are struggling with their mental state in some way. It’s also useful for people who just need an outlet to express themselves or who want a way to develop themselves emotionally. The simple act of writing in a journal daily can benefit you significantly and in a variety of ways.
Exploring the things that are troubling you on paper helps to relieve the stress they’re causing. Journals are the perfect place to vent because you can write every thought you’re having without being interrupted, without the risk of your feelings being overheard by the wrong person, and without someone telling you your perspective is wrong. You’re totally free to get all your frustration out onto the page using whatever words you want, and once it’s out, it’s easier to let it go and move on. You’ll feel lighter and calmer after spilling all your thoughts onto the pages. Being able to release some of the stress you’re feeling is a huge benefit of keeping a journal.
Journaling is also great for problem solving. When you’ve run into a dilemma or some kind of conflict, it’s natural to dwell on trying to find a solution. Thinking about how to deal with a problem is often done from a left-brained perspective; we intellectually analyze the situation to figure out what can be done to change it. But that doesn’t always result in a good solution; journaling about the problem helps you see the issue from a more right-brained perspective. That means you can use more emotional and intuitive thought processes to find a creative resolution instead.
Writing about the situation during time dedicated to doing just that also allows you to fully explore how you’re feeling. Even when you’re very clearly upset, you may not know the full scope of it. Something specific has set you off, but there could be other sources of stress lurking under the surface that intensified your emotions. As you write how you’re feeling and the associated thoughts, you can uncover things that you didn’t realize were bothering you, things that help explain why you’re so upset despite the trigger seeming minor. You can then explore those underlying issues, organize the feelings they’ve brought up, and work through them. It can result in greater emotional stability over time and help you develop the ability to overcome negative emotions quicker and more effectively. Journaling through your pain helps you heal from it, whether it’s fresh or something you’ve been carrying for years.
As you write your thoughts, you may find that the activity reveals things about yourself that you hadn’t realized before. You could realize that you’re harbouring resentment for someone, that you have a tendency to react a certain way in difficult situations, or that you need a lot of time to yourself to feel really happy. In opening yourself up to your journal, you open yourself up to yourself. It’s creates an opportunity for you to learn about yourself in a way you probably wouldn’t have without delving into your thoughts and examining them as they appear. And when you learn about yourself, you can consciously develop in a direction of your choosing. You and your life begin to change because you’ve identified where you want to improve yourself and which parts of your life you’d prefer to be another way. Journaling takes you down a road that allows you to grow, if you choose to.
These aren’t the only benefits, but are some very significant ones. And they sound great, don’t they? If they appeal to you, journaling is probably a great activity for you to get into. But what does a session of journaling involve? How do you do it? There are no set rules when it comes to writing in a journal, but here’s a good method to start with if you need some guidance.
Making the commitment to start journaling is the first step. Forming a new habit can be tough, but if you set aside a bit of time every day, it makes starting out a bit easier. Aim for ten to fifteen minutes per day, but if that sounds like a lot, go with just five minutes at first to take the pressure off. You don’t want to intimidate yourself before you’ve started. It can be helpful to make it the same time every day when you’re working to make it part of your routine, but if something comes up and you want to write at a different time, that’s totally fine too. When you’re ready, sit down with your book in a quiet space where you can focus effectively and where you’ll feel comfortable being vulnerable, since you’ll be opening up when you write. And remember to date the entry—it’ll be handy if you ever decide to look back later.
Then, dig in. Write about whatever is on your mind. Write about anything that’s bothering you or has you stressed out. If you’re feeling good, write about what you’re looking forward to or what was great about your day. As useful as a journal is for examining hard times, it can be just as useful to look at the good times. Both will help you understand yourself and your experiences better. There are no restrictions on what you write about, so just go with what sticks out to you at the time you sit down. It might be something that feels huge or something that seems insignificant, but if you’re thinking about it, it’s worth journaling about. The good, the bad, and the ugly—include it all.
But journaling is more than just a record of events; writing about your situation is important, but don’t forget to write about how you feel and venture further in that direction. What emotions did your day bring out? Why did you feel that way? How did you handle the emotions and what can you do now to work through them? The emotional aspect is the main reason why journaling is so impactful. Simply making a log of the events in your life is great if you want to remember them and might be useful for examining a situation in more detail, but it’s the investigation of your personal, subjective thoughts and feelings that result in the mental health benefits. Don’t skip this step; it’s an important one.
Try to write quickly while you’re journaling. It’s not important that your spelling and grammar are perfect, that your handwriting looks good, or that you use creative phrasing; what is important is documenting your perspective honestly. When you think too much about what you’re writing, you might scrutinize and make unnecessary decisions about what might be better left out. When you write quickly, you’re more likely to let your thoughts flow naturally and let out everything you’re thinking and feeling. So write fast and get it all on the page before you have a chance to censor yourself or skew your true view.
When you’re finished, put your journal away and make sure it’s somewhere no one will find it. If you’re journaling in a word document, be sure to password protect the files or set them to hidden, and if you’re using an online blog, make it private and log out when you’re finished. Ensuring that your journal is secure is important, especially when it contains sensitive information that you don’t want anyone to see. It will also help you to feel comfortable being completely honest when you write if you’re sure no one will see it.
Some experts have suggested alternative ideas for journaling that can be useful in certain circumstances. Writing out an imaginary dialogue with your inner child can help you to work through longstanding issues or insecurities; drawing images or self-portraits can help creative thinkers to express the way they’re feeling in instances when words are failing them; writing in third person instead of first or in the form of a short story can help you acknowledge something bad that happened to you when you’re having a difficult time processing it or admitting that it occurred. Every person is different and some benefit from journaling in unconventional ways. Some people also like to include things like the songs that they really enjoyed that day or artwork that they saw and appreciated. These things can help express their current mood or mindset in a way that words can’t capture.
Journaling is an intensely personal experience and has the potential to benefit you in numerous ways. The outline provided here is just a starting point; as you get into journal writing, you might find that different methods are more beneficial for you, and that’s great. Whatever works for you is the right way to journal. After a while, look back at your first few entries; you might be surprised just how much you’ve changed.