Journaling or diary writing as a means of telling our stories has been used by many for decades, however, it is only since the 1930’s that we first started to see the emergence of books and papers that spoke about journal writing as a tool for personal development. Since this time, journal writing has become a well-known resource and tool in the fields of mental health and personal development, so much so that a therapeutic modality known as Journal Therapy has been developed based on the effectiveness of it as a therapeutic intervention and a tool for immense growth.
Journal writing is defined as the conscious and deliberate use of reflective writing to further mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. Reflective journal writing is basically the process of writing down our thoughts, emotions and experiences with the purpose of bringing about change, healing and growth.
Scientific research has shown that engaging in journaling can benefit us in many ways. In relation to physical health, engaging in journaling has shown to result in fewer visits to the GP, improved immune system functioning, reduced blood pressure and better sleep (Smyth, 1998). In relation to mental and emotional health, benefits include: decreased stress and anxiety, increased ability to regulate emotions, increased feelings of happiness, contentment and joy, increased resiliency and problem solving ability, and increased motivation and productivity (Smyth, 1998; Emmons & McCullough, 2003). If this isn’t enough reasons to begin journaling, some other reasons for keeping a journal include:
- A journal is a huge support that is free of cost and is available 24 hours a day.
- A journal is a major support that does not rely on the availability of other people or their willingness to listen.
- A journal helps you to get to know yourself, your thoughts, your beliefs and your feelings more deeply.
- A journal helps you to process difficult emotions.
- A journal helps you to find your voice and to give voice to the previously unknown, unspeakable or unacknowledged.
- A journal helps you to develop insight, clarity and awareness about your life, your behaviors, your difficulties, your relationships and your goals.
- A journal can contain uncomfortable states and feelings such as anger, rage, grief, sadness, ambiguity or indecision and make them more bearable.
- A journal can be a rehearsal platform for events, conversations, and life itself which helps to ameliorate anticipatory anxiety and increase confidence.
- A journal can help you to become clear on your goals and can also become a huge aid in executing a plan of action for reaching those goals.
- A journal can unleash your creativity and help you to overcome any internal blocks that may be stopping you from growing your ideas.
Some tips on how to keep a journals
There is no right or wrong way to do therapeutic journaling. Whatever you write IS right. Everyone develops their own unique style when doing therapeutic journaling. Allow yourself to experiment until you find your own flow. Remember, your journal is for you and for you alone, no one else will be reading your words. Give yourself permission to write authentically without holding anything back in order to get the best results.
Use acronym WRITE
What will you write about? Choose your topic.
Review/ Reflect on it. Give yourself some time to fully connect with the issue at hand. It can help to first focus by taking a few deep breaths until you are in touch with your self.
Investigate your thoughts, feelings and current experience. Start writing and keep writing, do not judge, just let your thoughts and emotions flow as they come. Maybe you will be inspired to challenge certain thoughts as you see them appear on the paper- just write whatever comes to your mind.
Time yourself. It may help to start by writing within specific timeframes, at least at first. For instance, try for 5, 10 or 15 minutes straight. You can increase the timed writing sessions as you go.
Exit. Make the most out of your writing session by rereading what you have just written down and further reflecting and evaluating it with a couple concluding sentences. This is a way to help you take the zest of your writing with you.
Journal writing is a fantastic tool that can help you to develop your relationship with yourself and bring about immense growth. If you are interested in journaling, why not give it a go? However, caution must be noted, if you have experienced trauma, journaling for the purpose of processing trauma should be approached cautiously. It can create more distress if not undertaken with the help of a mental health professional. If you would like to journal about unprocessed trauma, it’s best to discuss it in therapy with a qualified practitioner first.
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.
Smyth, J. M. (1998) Written emotional expression. Effect sizes, outcome types, and moderating variables. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 174–184.