Journaling is a powerful self-care tool. I recommend journaling to my clients because I have personally experienced its benefits. Increasing research attests to the physical and psychological benefits of expressive writing. In his book Writing to Heal, Dr. Pennebaker explains that “people who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination and general anxiety tend to drop in weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.” Expressive writing also has long-term physical health benefits, such as improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and improved lung and liver function (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005).
Tips to Start Journaling
- Chose your medium. Pen and paper, notebook, apps, laptop?
- Choose a time and place. This should ideally be a comforting space where you are able to disconnect and be uninterrupted. Set the mood. Music? Tea? Alone in your favorite chair? Coffee house?
- Find your “Why” – What is your motivation for writing? Healing, personal development, de-stressing, recharging, refocusing, resolving disagreements, self-regulation?
- Subject matter – Write about something personal that is important to you.
- Audience – Write for yourself, and not for anyone else.
- Don’t stress about spelling, grammar, or writing style.
- Don’t self-edit. Authenticity is key.
- Write for a minimum of 20 minutes.
The Benefits of Journaling
Ok, so let’s dive into how writing can benefit you. Here are some of the ways journaling can help you in your journey through life.
- Emotional and Mental Release
It takes a lot of energy to keep distressing thoughts and feelings bottled up inside you. Whether you avoid or obsess about your problems, both habits are equally harmful to your health as they only increase your stress and intensify your problems. Journaling stops the rumination cycle and relieves the pressure of your emotional burdens. Expressive writing allows you to release the intense emotions and negative thoughts that have piled up inside of you. Journaling is a healthy cathartic expression that helps you to let go of whatever is bothering you. So be honest and start to write freely whatever comes to mind in all its rawness, and afterwards you may experience lightness and calm.
- Clarity for a Confused Mind
Journaling helps to sort out a cluttered mind. “Getting it all out on paper” can bring clarity to your internal world. I don’t know about you, but I feel better when I can see. Journaling helps me gain perspective. It helps me to process my experiences and to uncover valuable answers: What happened? What am I thinking and feeling? What is the problem? Why is it bothering me? Journaling helps me to “untangle” my thoughts and breaks down complex situations so that I can move towards a resolution.
- Unlock Solutions
Where do I go from here? What can I do to help myself? Writing reveals solutions to problems that I was not able to see before. It gives me the keys to locked doors. The simple act of writing a sentence down on paper helps me to expand my thoughts. Journaling creates valuable space in which to explore options and resources. Writing capitalizes on your brainpower. It engages the left brain, which is logical and analytical, but also stimulates the right brain to be creative and curious. Journaling can be a place to brainstorm, generate action plans, set goals for personal improvement, and prioritize tasks. Your journal also keeps you accountable to your promises.
- Unplug and Connect with Myself
In a busy fast-paced world, it is easy to forget to check-in with yourself and ask: “How am I doing?” Journaling gives you an opportunity to step back and view yourself in the mirror of your journal’s pages. The writing process can reveal parts of yourself that you did not even know existed, both beautiful and broken. My journal is a sacred place where I first learned to be myself, and which led me to discover who I really was. Journaling helps you to unearth the treasure inside of you. Engage with your insights and opinions. Find and acknowledge your gifts and strengths. Confront your fears, anxieties, short comings, and disappointments. Your journal is a place to honor, love, and respect your imperfect self and at the same time challenge yourself to be better.
- A Testimony of Change
Seeing progress builds encouragement and confidence and your journal provides a good gauge of growth. It enables you to record your successes and celebrate your accomplishments. Observing your self-transformation will motivate and inspire you to continue to challenge yourself beyond your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to write about your struggles as your weaknesses can actually bless you. By processing mistakes, we learn valuable lessons for the future. It is through self-discovery that we are empowered to change our old unhealthy patterns and develop new ones. Your journal can be reminder of the big picture when you forget how far you have come. Try not to get too performance minded. Life is about the journey and not the destination, so enjoy the process in your journal.
- Let Go of the Past
Journaling is a vehicle that enables us to visit the past and resolve unfinished business. Healing begins by giving our emotional wounds a voice on paper. We all have a story to tell and we all need to process the impact of our experiences. It is important to understand yourself and where you come from so that you can choose a better future. There are valuable treasures and resources to unearth in the past. Journaling has taught me to see how pain can benefit me as I focus on how it can be used to make me stronger and wiser. Your journal testifies to your endurance, which fuels self-confidence and emotional resiliency. Journaling might give you the opportunity to finally confront that person who hurt you. Or perhaps you could write to yourself, affirming and acknowledging the pain of your inner child. Writing provides a form of closure and encourages us to partner with God as we write new chapters of our lives.
Journaling and Christian Counseling
As you continue in your journaling practice, you will find yourself becoming more solid, clear, and balanced. Journaling is a gift of healing and personal transformation that is available to anyone. As a Christian counselor, I have seen how counseling combined with journaling can be a powerful way to jump start your therapy experience and make the most of your time and money. My clients who journal go deeper in their sessions and experience change faster. If you would like more guidance on expressive writing as a therapeutic tool, or if you desire to begin your path of healing, please don’t hesitate to contact me to find out more about Christian counseling.
“Sad, IMG_4864,ʺ courtesy of Peter Denker, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); ʺWrite in Journal,ʺ courtesy of Walt Stoneburner, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); ʺYou Are Beautiful,ʺ courtesy of Le Melodie, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)