By Anne Mitchell
If you thought that writing daily about your thoughts, emotions and experiences, was just for adolescents, think again. Journaling is the new buzzword in the mental health sector, since it has numerous benefits which are just beginning to be discovered. We should, perhaps, begin by differentiating journaling from simply keeping a diary. If the latter mainly comprises jotting down the day’s events, journaling is all about writing down how you react to these events and situations, with a view to understanding yourself better and avoiding pitfalls that affect your mental health.
The many proven benefits of journaling include:
- Helping one deal with stressful or traumatic events: One study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine by Philip Ulrich et al, found that keeping a journal can facilitate positive growth from a difficult event. The benefits are especially strong when the focus of the writer involves trying to make sense of, or find meaning from, a traumatic event. Dr. James Pennebaker, author of the book Writing to Heal, notes: “When we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable and in doing so, free ourselves from mentally being tangled in traumas.” When you write in your journal, try to avoid simply expressing negative emotion. Focus on greater understanding of what you have been through.
- Evoking a state of mindfulness: Practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation are relied upon in a variety of settings where stress and anxiety are a factor – these include centers for those in rehabilitation from an addiction to drugs and alcohol, and centers for those in recovery from life-threatening conditions such as breast cancer. Mindfulness, which essentially involves ‘being in the here and now’, has been found to significantly reduce stress hormone levels, thereby bringing greater calm and an enhanced ability to concentrate and make decisions. Indeed, mindfulness based practices such as journaling remind us that it is important not to suppress difficult thoughts and emotions – rather, we should acknowledge they exist and allow ourselves to feel emotions such as sadness or anger, without allowing them to take over and lead us to make wrong or rash decisions. Journaling is an excellent way to stay in the moment; best of all, when we are in a better frame of mind, we can look back at our writing from days past and note the progress we have made since then.
- Identification of destructive patterns: Journaling helps us understand ourselves better. Through our writing, we can identify the patterns we adopt which are not working well for us. We can also note the people or situations that tend to put us in a negative frame of mind and formulate a strategy to keep these triggers for depression or anxiety, at bay.
- Improvement of communication skills: Experts at Stanford University note that writing has critical connections to speaking. Writing down your thoughts can enhance your ability to express them through speech.
How to Journal
If you are inspired to start a journal, all you essentially need is a notebook, a pen, and a little time every evening. It is vital to be consistent to reap the maximum benefits from journaling so make sure to find a space at home in which you feel relaxed, and where noise from others in your home does not bother you (you can listen to music if you find that it gets your creative juices flowing).
Try to dedicate 20 minutes at the very least, to journaling daily. Throughout the day, take down notes about important reactions you have had to the day’s events, since if you fail to do this, you may forget about them by the time you sit down to write. Set aside a specific day every week to read your entries, to obtain vital insight from your journal.
Finally, try to support journaling with other mindfulness-based pursuits. These may include yoga, meditation, and even spending quiet time in a natural setting. Napping for a short time just before journaling can also encourage your thoughts and feelings to emerge. Use your journal to create a strategy of how to deal with difficult people or situations that seem to unsettle your peace of mind. Remember that how you react to them is just as important as the things they actually do, or the words they speak.
About the author:
Anne Mitchell is a freelance writer and mother. After a successful career in healthcare, specifically business management in the healthcare sector Anne decided to pursue her first love of writing. Not only does this now complement her lifestyle and family needs but it also enables her to write pieces that she is passionate about. Anne hopes to inspire others with her writing. In her spare time she enjoys reading, cooking and fresh air – sometimes all at once!