The Power of Words
As a child, you may have written out your thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a diary that you kept hidden away from others. You may have detailed every second of your day, or you may have used it to vent about a situation at school or with a friend that got under your skin.
If you used to write in a diary, then you are likely already familiar with the process of journaling. Journaling is the act of writing down (or, in today’s technological world, typing up) your life experiences, insights, and emotions.
Journaling can encourage self-discovery, exploration, and reflection, depending on the intention that you have before you begin. For example, when faced with a stressful situation, you simply may want to get all your thoughts out on a page (free-form journaling), or you may want to assess your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions (reflective journaling). Alternatively, you may be wanting to spend some time thinking about and jotting down all the things you are grateful for in life (gratitude journaling).
Additionally, journaling can be used to help you with processing difficult feelings and situations that you are not ready to talk about or are unsure of how to resolve. For example, you may be angry with someone and know that if you yell at them, it won’t be productive. But by releasing your anger onto a page, you can gain a better perspective on the situation, and even make a plan for how to address the situation in a way that will lead to a favorable outcome.
When you journal, you release emotions and thoughts in order to gain a deeper understanding of yourself or a specific situation. In essence, it’s a safe form of self-expression that allows you to spill out the contents of your heart and mind onto a page, in order to lessen your mental load.
Journaling and Mental Health
Journaling offers many benefits, such as encouraging self-reflection, increasing resilience (your ability to recover from a difficult situation quickly), and improving self-esteem, just to name a few. Journaling also can assist with organizing your thoughts, so that your mind feels less cluttered.
What’s more, journaling can improve your mental health in many surprising ways. Journaling has been shown to reduce mental distress and increase wellbeing, even after just one month of regular writing activity (Smyth et al., 2018).
Helping with Anxiety
Anxious thoughts can be difficult to manage. A 2018 study found that people who journaled for 15 minutes, 3 days a week, for 12 consecutive weeks, experienced a reduction in levels of anxiety and perceived stress after only one month (Smyth et al., 2018).
If you’re feeling anxious, you may find yourself dwelling on negative thoughts on a loop, also known as rumination. Journaling can help you to break this endless cycle of unhelpful thinking. By writing down your negative thoughts and feelings, you give yourself a chance to create distance from them. This can give you the space that you need to see them more clearly and to process and respond in a positive manner.
However, journaling also can cause you to spiral further, if you are not careful. A tip to help you avoid traveling further down the rabbit hole is to set a clear intention before you start writing.
For example, let’s say that you are worried about an upcoming job interview, and your mind keeps going to the worst-case scenario. In order to avoid feeding the idea that the interview will go terribly, before you start journaling, you can plan to write down all the evidence you have that the interview will and will not go well. If you find that your evidence for it not going well is still dominating your thoughts, you can shift your focus to writing down how you plan to handle the situation, if the worst were to happen. This can help you to prevent doom and gloom from filling up your pages.
Decreasing Depressive Symptoms
Consistent journaling has been shown to decrease depressive symptoms, specifically feelings of dysphoria, which refers to a state of unease, frustration, or dissatisfaction (Krpan et al., 2013). Focusing on emotional events and exploring those emotions through expressive writing also has been shown to help decrease symptoms of depression (Krpan et al., 2013).
While this practice is no replacement for a professional therapist, journaling can be used as a tool during therapy sessions. You can bring your journal with you to therapy and ask your counselor to help you process your entries. Additionally, if you find that you have trouble remembering things that happened in your life between sessions, revisiting your journal before sessions can help you to refresh your memory.
Tips For Getting Started
Choose Where You Want Your Words to Live: A great place to start is by going to a store and selecting a notebook. This could be as fancy or as plain as you’d like. Selecting a journal and decorating it with stickers and drawings can be a lot of fun. If you prefer to type on your computer or use talk-to-text on your phone, that’s fine too! There are pros and cons to physically writing vs. involving technology (Wanderings, 2020). Whichever route you choose to go (physical journal or e-journal), make sure that you’re selecting what works best for you!
One thing to keep in mind when selecting a journal is privacy. If you’re concerned about losing a physical journal or about someone getting ahold of it, typing it out might be the better option. The Oasis app has a free-form journal feature, where you can type out anything you want, and it’s encrypted for your privacy. If you choose to keep your journal on a different app on your phone or computer, make sure there is a way to protect it with a digital password.
Don’t Overthink It: Some people like to be very aware of what they write, and others prefer to write in a stream of consciousness, without putting much mental effort into it. Furthermore, some people like to write in clean paragraphs, while others choose to use mind maps or throw in some doodles (Mind Map Inspiration, n.d.). No matter how you choose to journal, try not to overthink it. In other words, don’t worry about it looking good or using proper grammar. It doesn’t need to be perfect, as it is for your eyes only!
Schedule Time: Consistency is key when it comes to seeing the benefits of journaling, so it’s important to set time aside in your schedule to journal regularly and keep at it. You may notice immediate positive effects after the first time that you journal, or it may take a few weeks. Either way, remember to stick to your routine and enjoy the process!
Dibdin, E. (2022, March 30). The mental health benefits of journaling. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling
Dimitroff, L. J., Sliwoski, L., O’Brien, S., & Nichols, L. W. (2017). Change your life through journaling–The benefits of journaling for registered nurses. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, 7(2), 90-98. http://dx.doi.org/10.5430/jnep.v7n2p90
Krpan K. M., Kross E., Berman M. G., Deldin P. J., Askren M. K., & Jonides J. (2013). An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. The Journal of Affective Disorders, 150(3), 1148-1151. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2013.05.065
Mind Map Inspiration. (n.d.). Top 10 favourite mind maps. http://www.mindmapinspiration.com/top-10/
Smyth J. M., Johnson J. A., Auer B. J., Lehman E., Talamo G., & Sciamanna C. N. (2018). Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health, 5(4), e11290. doi: 10.2196/11290
Wanderings. (2020, July 26). Is it better to write or type a journal? https://wanderersway.com/blogs/wanderers-way/is-it-better-to-write-or-type-a-journal