Writing a journal, or journaling, will improve your mental well being. Research indicates that those who express themselves in a journal require less visits to the doctor for their health, than those who don’t.
Expressive writing (writing about your thoughts, reactions to situations, experiences, negative life events) is a self-reflective tool with tremendous power. By exploring emotional moments in our lives, we are forced to examine who we are, our values, our relationships, and ultimately, who we want to become.
Whilst the standard journal style is to detail your day, with comments and reflections of your experiences, there are other formats that are also helpful – responding to prompts, interweaving drawings with words. All of these styles are beneficial. It doesn’t matter if you handwrite or type a journal. It is however important that you write only for yourself, and that it is kept in a private secure place.
Start a journal today, you won’t regret it. Here are some of the benefits:
Cheap therapy: Without putting counsellors out of a job, the first benefit is that journaling is that it is a form of free therapy for which all types of people can benefit emotionally. Writing about stressful events helps the writer experience the event at a distance, with some much needed detachment, which helps one review and come to terms with unsettling events. You can rewrite your experience from various perspectives, you can use the reflection to re-examine your feelings.
Resolve conflicts: Writing about your unresolved conflicts with others can help to clarify your own perspective on events, as well as leave you open to reinterpretation of your views, and those of the other party/ parties. Even writing about your emotional reaction inside a dispute is helpful therapy for yourself, as long as you are kind to yourself and non-judgemental. Even if you realise you have done “wrong” inside a dispute, you can use this format to look for reasons for forgiveness or reconciliation.
Access all areas: Journaling increases your self-awareness and your ability to reflect on your decision making style. For example you may start to see your internal voice on the page telling you that you MUST and SHOULD be doing things in a certain manner. Ask yourself, especially if you are an adult, why should you or must you do anything? If you record your mood over the course of many days you will be able to assess when you feel better or worse, and how many days you have felt strong and capable as opposed to sad or disconnected. This can help you decide if you can change those behaviours alone, or you would like to search for some additional help.
Stress Buster: When we have too many to dos running around in our heads, as well as heavy expectations that we put on ourselves, we can become overwhelmed. Writing a journal at this time will help you focus, calm your heart rate, and allow you to negotiate with your inner “shoulda-coulda-woulda” voice to help you challenge what items you really need to complete to keep you on your life plan, versus what is just ‘noise’.
Problem solved: When you write out a problem your analytical mind is able to reinterpret the situation from a less emotional perspective, hence we are likely to be able to see different opportunities to challenge situations. If you have a problem to solve, challenge yourself to write of five different solutions to the problem, even include the ludicrous. Even consider to challenge your view of the “problem”. Could it be reframed into an opportunity for you? To grow, to learn, to get ahead, to accept? Simply processing ideas has a way of helping structure a liveable solution.
Increase your sense of gratitude: A positive by product of recounting your experiences is that you also get to acknowledge the sources of support that exist in your life, and the parts of life which are good. If you don’t find this naturally occurring, you can even add a section in your journal – to celebrate three things that you are grateful in every diary entry.
Where to start? If you have a current stressful event or previous trauma, you might find writing about these a place to start. The most valuable entries often start with a personal question such as “what worries me most at this time?”.
Angela Watkins is a psychologist and counsellor at RED DOOR Counselling in Hong Kong Her current clinical work focuses on adults in the areas of, depression, the experience of divorce, anxiety, perfectionism, career change, loss of direction, burnout, relationship and family challenges, OCD, and parenting special needs children. She regularly recommends journaling to her clients in their therapeutic journeys.