Journaling is an extremely healing practice, in more ways than one, but that said I don’t blame you if you think that it’s gimmicky. Writing out your thoughts and emotions every single day may seem like a cumbersome idea of self-care but research has proven that journaling can offer you several benefits, improving both your mental and physical health! Journaling, or more accurately “expressive writing”, is much more than the perfectly curated, colour-coded bullet journals you find all over Instagram.
I’ve been journaling, albeit on and off, since I was 16 years old. I had lost touch with it for a while until last year, when a dear friend of mine suddenly passed away. As I grieved, so many different feelings swirled in my mind, things I couldn’t possibly even begin to try to explain to another human being. So I turned to writing. It started off as pieces written on whatever I could find in moments where I felt overwhelmed by my emotions before I decided to try and keep a regular journal.
For many months my journal entries revolved around that one event in my life. It helped me process my often conflicting emotions: guilt, anger, depression, denial, confusion. Things seemed much simpler once they were out on the paper and not just a tangled web of abstract thoughts. Instead of ruminating over my negative thoughts, journaling allowed me to dispel all of the gunk in my head. It also allowed me to take my complicated, traumatic experience and transform it into a coherent narrative – like a story that I could make sense of. Organising your thoughts and feelings as well as acknowledging trauma are natural outcomes of journaling. This actually relieves your brain of the taxing job of processing heavy emotions, not only improving your memory but helping you sleep better. This in turn helps boost your immune system and your mood.
While journaling can’t magically solve all of your problems, it is a great way to take care of your mental and emotional health. However, it can also seem daunting, especially if you’ve never kept a journal; in reality though, journaling is incredibly simple. Here’s some advice to get you started if you’re thinking of starting a journal:
1. Make It a Regular Habit
While you don’t have to do it every day, most experts recommend you journal for at least 15 minutes 3-4 days a week. Plan a routine that works for you, whether it’s journaling at a set time every day or journaling after every couple of days – the important thing is to incorporate it into your daily life. Regularly journaling is the best way to reap its benefits.
2. Start Small
Don’t feel pressured to write pages upon pages about your feelings on your first try! Journaling can seem daunting for first-timers but it’s perfectly fine to start off by writing just a couple of sentences each day. Remember that there’s no such thing as the perfect way to journal – it’s all about finding what works for you.
3. Pick Your Medium
While curling up on a sofa with your favourite pen and journal duo is the stuff of self-care dreams, there’s no compulsion to keep a traditional journal if that’s not for you. Feel free to write on your laptop, the Notes app on your phone or one of those yellow legal notepads. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing on, as long you’re writing!
4. Bring Your Journal With You Everywhere
This is a great little trick to make sure that no matter what, you can snag a few minutes to do your journaling whenever you get the time. Consistency is the most important factor if you’re looking to commit to journaling. It’s also a good move because you can turn to your journal in your lowest moments; it’s a safe outlet to process negative emotions or events.
5. Don’t Feel Pressured To Make It Perfect
I’ve already mentioned this before but it warrants mentioning again: your journal isn’t meant to be perfect! It’s meant to be a no judgement zone, so don’t worry about being articulate or making sure you don’t have any grammatical errors. Try to be honest with your thoughts and emotions when journaling. Don’t feel like you have to filter your feelings – journaling is meant to help you confront and process them healthily.
6. Write About Whatever You Want
Writing in your journal is the only way to find out what you should be writing about. Trust the process and try to let go as you start to write; you’ll likely be surprised by the things that come pouring onto the pages from your unconscious mind. However, if you’re really struggling with it, prompts are a great way to give yourself a push in the right direction. Here a couple of prompts that you can try out:
- Write about a challenge you’re currently facing and possible solutions
- Write ten things you wish people knew about you
- Write about three things you’re grateful for today and why
- Write out some advice to your younger self
- Write an unsent letter to someone in your life
Even just one journaling session is incredibly beneficial to your health, but if you find that it isn’t working for you that’s alright. It’s okay to stop. What works for one person may not work for you – it’s all about finding what does work for you!