Many of us might have read online about journalling or been told by our mates (or our therapists) about how useful it can be. Journalling has indeed been shown, time and time again in the research, to be something that helps us manage our mental health and develop a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Journalling has been practiced since ancient times with evidence as far back as 55AD in China and widespread adoption by Western cultures during the Renaissance period.
Now more than ever, journalling can help us face the challenges of modern life.
Some of the benefits of journalling include:
- Helping to manage anxiety:
- By creating a safe space to externalise and process our thoughts and feelings, journaling can help us confront and understand our anxieties. This act of self-reflection increases our self-awareness, allowing us to identify triggers and patterns in our emotional responses.
- Reducing stress:
- Journalling is an effective proactive stress management strategy. It can help declutter our minds, transforming nebulous worries into structured narratives.
- Dealing with depression:
- By writing down our feelings, we can make depressing thoughts easier to confront. It fosters our inner dialogue and allows us to identify negative thought cycles.
- Helping you prioritise goals and clarify values:
- Journalling can serve as a compass, guiding us towards a clearer understanding of our personal aspirations and values. By dedicating time to writing down our goals and values, it helps us gain clarity on what really matters.
- Helping you work through problems, fears and obstacles:
- When faced with problems, fears, or obstacles, journalling provides a structured environment to break them down into manageable components. Thus they become problems with potential solutions rather than insurmountable barriers.
- Tracking symptoms day-to-day, identifying triggers and learning how to manage them:
- Journalling creates a detailed record that can be analysed over time. Patterns begin to emerge, highlighting recurring triggers that consistently precede heightened emotional states. This act of self-observation, facilitated by the journal, allows us to notice triggers that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
- Providing an opportunity to identify negative thoughts and habits and shifting self talk to something more positive and helpful:
- Journalling not only exposes the shadows of our psyche but also lights the path towards a more positive and nurturing self-narrative. By countering negative thoughts with positive affirmations and evidence-based counterarguments, one can gradually shift their self-talk from a source of self-criticism to one of encouragement and support.
Journaling, the age-old practice of chronicling one’s thoughts and experiences, has emerged as a potent antidote to the modern-day stresses that plague our lives. Engaging in this introspective activity allows individuals to declutter their minds, transforming nebulous worries into structured narratives.
By articulating and externalising stressors, one can gain clarity, perspective, and a sense of control. The very act of writing can serve as a cathartic release, helping to dissipate pent-up emotions and tensions.
Okay, sounds great. So how do I start?
Make it Easy.
Embarking on the journaling journey need not be daunting; in fact, simplicity is key to fostering a sustainable practice.
To begin, choose a medium that resonates with you, be it a traditional notebook, a digital app, or even voice memos.
Set an upper limit to your journalling (e.g. “I will write one page max”) – this will make it less likely that you’ll overcommit and give up when it gets overwhelming.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to journal; it’s a personal exploration. Over time, as you become more attuned to the process, you’ll find that the act of writing becomes more fluid, and the insights gleaned become more profound. In essence, making journaling a habit is about granting yourself the grace to start small, be authentic, and embrace the journey of self-discovery.
Create a Ritual.
Setting aside a dedicated time each day, even if it’s just a few minutes, can establish a routine, making the process feel more natural over time. Try to commit to journalling at a similar time of day (maybe first thing in the morning, or just before bed). Create a safe and relaxing space for yourself (brew yourself a cup of tea, light a candle, or sit in your favourite chair).
Initially, it’s essential to remember that the goal isn’t to craft perfect prose but to express genuine feelings and thoughts.
It can be useful to set an intention around your purpose for journalling. For some, it can be managing anxious or depressive thoughts, for others, it can be reflecting on your emotional state and exploring how you feel in your mind and body. Perhaps you want to use it as an opportunity to reflect on how you’re living in line with your values? Or you might journal to explore relationship dynamics.
Don’t burden yourself with the expectation of perfection; your journal is a judgment-free zone. Start with prompts or simple questions like, ‘How do I feel today?’ or ‘What am I grateful for?’ to guide your reflections.
There are no rules when it comes to what you can write about, but setting intentions allows the practice to be purposeful and more effective, particularly when working with specific issues.
Bonus tips for journaling like a pro:
Investigate nature of thoughts vs content of thoughts:
It can be easy to get swept up in what our thoughts are saying while journalling, that we forget to investigate what else they’re doing. E.g. Are they helpful to us? Is there evidence that they were true? Are they the sort of things we’d say to a friend or loved one? .
The ‘nature’ of thoughts refers to the inherent characteristics and patterns of our thinking process. It encompasses how thoughts arise, their fleeting or persistent nature, and the interconnectedness of one thought to another.
On the other hand, the ‘content’ of thoughts pertains to the specific ideas, images, or messages they convey. It’s the storyline, the tangible subjects we ponder, worry about, or reminisce over. While the content can be influenced by external factors like experiences or stimuli, the nature is deeply rooted in our cognitive functions and can be influenced by factors like sleep, stress, or even genetics.
Recognising this distinction is crucial as it allows us to step back and observe our thoughts without becoming entangled in the content, fostering a more objective and mindful perspective.
Handwrite: While you can use your laptop or phone for journalling, handwriting has been shown to have a greater therapeutic effect. The tactile experience of pen meeting paper engages the brain differently than typing. This manual process requires a coordination of fine motor skills and cognitive functions, fostering a deeper connection and processing of the material being written. The slower pace of handwriting allows for a more deliberate reflection, granting individuals the time to explore and process their emotions fully.
End with an affirmation: We could all learn to talk to ourselves with a little more kindness. So, you might like to finish off your journalling practice with some positive words specific to who you are or what you’re working through.
Concluding a journalling session with a positive affirmation serves as a powerful anchor, ensuring that the introspective journey leaves a lasting, uplifting imprint on the psyche. While journaling often involves delving into complex emotions, challenges, and vulnerabilities, ending on a note of positivity ensures that you move forwards with a sense of hope and empowerment. Positive affirmations act as cognitive recalibrations, actively shifting the mind’s focus from challenges to possibilities. They reinforce self-worth, resilience, and potential, creating a mental environment conducive to growth and healing. Moreover, the repetition of such affirmations after journalling can rewire neural pathways, fostering a more optimistic and solution-oriented mindset.
Journalling prompts: If you feel a little overwhelmed by the pressures of a blank page, you might want to f you feel a little overwhelmed by the pressures of a blank page, you might want to use prompts to start the process. On days when the blank page of a journal seems daunting and words elude you, journaling prompts can be a beacon of inspiration. These prompts act as gentle nudges, guiding your thoughts and providing a starting point for exploration.
Return to your intention (what are you working on or exploring?), jump over to your ol’ mate Google, and type in something like…
Journaling prompts for:
- self discovery
Ultimately, the key is to remain curious and open, allowing these prompts to lead you on a journey of self-discovery, even when the initial spark seems hard to ignite
Matthew Liberman, “Putting Feelings Into Words“. UCLA. https://www.scn.ucla.edu/pdf/AL(2007).pdf
Matthew Liberman, “Does Rejection Hurt”, Science (Vol. 302, No. 5643, pages 290-292).