I have kept a journal since I was 11 years old. The practice of expressing my thoughts and ideas through writing has always felt natural to me. Now that I am in my 30s I am grateful to have a record of my life’s journey. Each time I look back through my old journals I am able to reflect on my life experiences from a new perspective. It has served as a powerful self development tool for me.
Journaling is a practice that has benefits that far exceed the ability to reflect on your life. Implementing a regular journaling practice into your daily routine can improve your overall health, strengthen your emotional and mental agility, reduce stress and anxiety, make you smarter and ultimately has the power to transform your life.
Isn’t “journal” just another word for “diary”?
Journaling may share some similarities with keeping a diary, however, there is a very important difference between the two. Diaries are often just a dumping ground for your emotions and secrets (at least that is the common perception). Journaling, on the other hand, is done with intention. The purpose of journaling is to organize your thoughts, ideas, or experiences with a constructive intention.
This is a very distinct and important difference to consider. Researchers have found that what we write about is key when it comes to experiencing the positive effects of journaling. In a study published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, researchers found that the participants that journaled only about their emotions when recounting an unpleasant or traumatic experience actually suffered more due to their focus being set on the negative emotions. In contrast, the participants that journaled about their thoughts and feelings subjectively regarding the event were more likely to focus on the positive aspects and see an opportunity to learn and grow from their experience.
The purpose of journaling is to organize your thoughts, ideas, or experiences with a constructive intention.
Research continues to pile up the evidence that keeping a journal can improve your overall well being on both a mental and physical level. It can decrease stress, improve communication skills, and help you to cope with the trials of life. For those of you that need some convincing as to why journaling should become a part of your day, here are just a few of the positive effects journaling can have on your health and your life.
1. Increased Brain Power
Journalling can actually make you smarter! The act of writing engages the part of our brain that is used for cognitive function, when paired with the regions on our brain that regulates emotions and imagination, we create a neuropathic cocktail that improves memory, mental agility and emotional balance.
” Writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to do what it does best, i.e. create, intuit and feel. In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us.” Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert.
writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”Maud Purcell
2. Better Mood
It may seem silly to assume writing a few words on a piece of paper could improve the quality of your mood. however, that is exactly what research has found to be true. In fact, many mental health professionals are finding that journaling is a valuable tool for treating patients with debilitating mental health disorders such as MDD, anxiety disorders and PTSD.
APA’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (JEP: General) (Vol. 130, No. 3), indicates that expressive writing reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory. These improvements, researchers believe, may in turn free up our cognitive resources for other mental activities, including our ability to cope more effectively with stress.
3. Lower Stress
Science has shown that journaling decreases stress and allows people to better cope with traumatic and unpleasant experiences. We all know that stress is one of the biggest players in disrupting our wellbeing. High stress levels have been linked to lower immune function due to it’s negative impact on sleep, eating habits, and hormone levels. Having a journal to help you decompress your worries and cares before you hit the hay helps you to catch more Zs.
Dr. Jason Moser, an associate professor of psychology, and the director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, said about journaling: “Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what worriers often get ‘burned out’ over, their worried minds working harder and hotter. This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head.’”
4. Increased creativity
“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”Gustave Flaubert said,
Not only does writing create the perfect combination or right brain and left brain chemistry for creative thinking but research has found that when someone is able to write freely without the pressure of the expectations of others, they lose their inhibitions which might otherwise sensor their writing. The freedom of knowing that your journal is for your eyes only unlocks the freedom to express yourself without fear of judgment. You might be surprised by the things that come flying out of that brain of yours and onto the page when your inhibitions are down.
5. Create Better Habits
Many of us have habits or behaviors that we would like to change. We may wish to improve our health, better manage our finances, or heal from our chronic depression. However, when we look at the problems in our life we want to change, it can feel overwhelming which often leads us into denial or procrastination. The problem is, most of us are anaware of the reasons that fuel our poor habits and so all attempts to remedy them with quick fixes or one size fits all plans seems futile.
Journaling opens up the opportunity to annualize our daily life with a big picture perspective. When we journal we are able to document the movements of our heart and mind from day to day and look back on it with a wider lens. We are able to see patterns of behavior that we likely would have remained oblivious to otherwise.
Journaling is also a great tool for organizing your thoughts and plans. Putting something in writing increases your likelihood to implement it in your life. Not only is it a visual reminder for you to stay motivated but also writing increases the chance that your brain will store the goal in your long term memory. which means that you are less likely to forget about your goal if you make a written agreement with yourself.
For anyone that may feel skeptical about journaling I implore you to give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You don’t need to go out and buy a fancy journal to get started. You can start with a cheap .50 cent notebook from the dollar store and a sharpened pencil. Although once you have committed to a journalling practice I do reccomend high quality paper and pen for a more enjoyable experience.
I know without a shadow of a doubt that if you start a journaling practice you will not regret it.
My journals that I had got lost when I moved after the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. I’ve been devastated about it. I often wish I could back and read my thoughts back when I was in Middle School and High School. I stopped journaling for a long time. I recently picked it back up. I’m trying to make sure I write in it at least once of day.
I am so sorry to hear about your journals. That is so devastating to lose something so irreplacable. My childhood journals were also destroyed several years ago. I was lucky enough to hold onto the ones from the past decade of my life, however. It’s great that you have started journaling again. It is such a wonderful self care practice.
Thank you Crystin! Yes, I agree.