A quick search on the internet on ‘The Benefits of Journaling” yields many results. Here I have taken a few, tweaked a little bit, combined them or broken them up, and written my commentary on each one. Note that as you read the following benefits, there may appear to be some overlap.
Many of the benefits relate to better mental health. Mental health is an area that has gotten a lot of attention, especially in the past few years, with the worldwide pandemic bringing this formerly hidden issue to the forefront. The clarion call for better mental health has been heard far and wide and personal responsibility is much needed if we are to tackle it. Let’s look at how journaling can help with that.
Anxiety or stress is a common term used in everyday commonplace conversations. Be it for the homemaker or the student, the rich or the poor. Most of us would be familiar with the sensations that this term brings having faced anxiety at one point in our lives or another. Covid-19 has made anxiety more acute and difficult to evade.
Different people cope with anxiety in different ways. Some drink their sorrows away, some drown their pain with drugs. Others resort to other pain-numbing activities that are sadly addictive and only serve to multiply the problem in the long term. Some would ‘sweat it out’ or ‘talk it out’. Some would just not think about it. Many ways of coping.
Journaling is one way to manage anxiety and stress in one’s life. There have been emotionally turbulent times in my life when I felt that I just couldn’t quite manage and I needed to understand what was going on. I needed to pour it out, spill the beans. I ran to my trusty journal. Picked it up, opened it, and away I went into the inner recesses of my soul. Pouring out my thoughts, my heart, my challenges, and even my tears. My journal has proved to be a great listener during those times. Non-condemning and non-judgemental. Accepting me for who I am.
Venting or ranting or introspection, however you would like to call it, has helped me to slowly release that pressure-cooker type stress. The benefits have accrued to me and my immediate family members, who otherwise would be near, clear, and easy targets of my built-up pressure. As I write away, I physically and emotionally feel the pressure diminish, it reduces to a whistle, then slowly drops to a hiss and then all is calm again. It’s safe to open the lid.
Besides pressure release, journaling has also given me the space to reflect on what was going on and dissect the problem. Why did this happen in the first place? What was the source of anxiety? What were the triggers? Is there a pattern? How can I tackle them? Do I have a release switch that I can turn on to diffuse the anxiety besides journaling? It has been a source of learning and growing and encouragement especially when I see progress in myself and improvements in my adaptive behavior. It has also been a rich source of emotional healing.
Sometimes you may not be anxious or stressed but you need something or someone to help you understand yourself or your circumstance. You need clarity and understanding of what’s going on inside and outside of you. There are too many highways and byways crisscrossing in your mind all at the same time. It seems like a jumbled mess.
Journaling helps you gain clarity and make sense of what’s going on. Writing down your thoughts however jumbled it may be can give you the clarity you need to see things a little clearer or from a different perspective.
A situation, problem, or challenge may appear bigger than it is when it just sits in the mind. Journaling helps you recover your perspective on things. Maybe you conclude that it’s not a big deal as you initially thought it was or maybe you see a light at the end of the tunnel or maybe you gain insights you never had before. Give yourself a chance to be heard. You may be pleasantly surprised by your discovery.
Journaling also helps you know yourself better. Like the quote by Natalie Goldberg says, it ‘splits you open’. It allows you to clarify your thoughts and feelings. There is a saying that perspective is everything. And if this is the case, then we owe it to ourselves and to others to challenge our perspective and if necessary change it. Journaling can expose our ‘wrong-headedness’.
Journaling can help you gain control of a seemingly out-of-control world or an out-of-control situation. Sometimes things seem to be happening to you or they come upon you so suddenly. Like losing your job, or losing a loved one. Or an unexpected breakup or an unanticipated financial burden that you now have to bear.
Sometimes they just seem to come to you all at once and from all sides. It is so easy to feel out of control. Like you are being whisked away by a Wizard of Oz type of tornado that sweeps you clean off your feet, taking you to dizzying heights and giving you no solid ground on which to stand.
In an out-of-control world, journaling can give you that respite of knowing that in some way you haven’t lost it all. That you are not a victim cast upon a lonely island, left to fend for yourself by your resources. That you are still standing on solid ground and there remains a vestige of hope.
The act of journaling, that simple act of writing your thoughts down, whispers to you in the chaos that you are still in control. “I can journal. I can write. I am in control. I am with my emotions and my thoughts. I am safe. Nobody can take this from me. It is mine. I am not a victim.”
Apart from anxiety, depression is another challenging mental health issue. Depression arises when one feels sad and/or loses interest in what he/she used to enjoy. Fortunately, it is treatable.
Journaling helps one connect with their inner self. As mentioned above, journaling helps you clarify your thoughts and emotions and allows you to try and make sense of what’s going on. Journaling can be used as a tool for recovery.
One caution that I believe is worth adding is this – journaling can easily lead to rumination. Rumination is defined as “a form of perseverative cognition that focuses on negative content, generally past and present, and results in emotional distress.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312901/)
It’s very easy to ruminate when journaling. Especially when journaling is a do-what-you-like and write-what-you-want kind of no-boundary exercise. But we must know when to step on the brakes. Uncontrolled, it can lead to emotional distress instead of being a tool for healing and recovery. If you are in such a situation, it would be advisable to seek out the assistance of a trained therapist. Sometimes, journaling only takes us so far. And to move on or to get unstuck we need external help.
I have caught myself ruminating in journaling. To avoid that, I have learned to end in hope. For me, journaling has to be a healthy, positive, and hopeful exercise. I want to end up feeling better and not worse than when I started.
As a Christian, I have found it helpful to insert Bible verses and prayers into my writing. I can be writing about a situation and then I pivot into writing out an appropriate Bible verse and that gives me perspective on how I should approach a situation from a biblical standpoint. Sometimes, my journal takes on the form of a prayer.
Another caution I would like to share relates to the act of venting or ranting. Many of us use our journals to vent/rant. Not just about situations but about people too. I am guilty of using my journal for this purpose. In my anger and hurt, I have written bad things about people, things I am not proud of. Making it all about them and not me. Singling them out as the antagonist and me as the protagonist. My journal entry can get ugly. In the heat of the moment, it seemed like the right thing to do.
The good thing is we all move on. Our opinions change. We soften, we gain perspective, our emotions settle. So what I have done in the past is to go back and tear those ugly pages up. The people I ranted about were too dear to me. I didn’t want to keep a written record of bad memories. Tearing up those ugly entries was akin to me forgiving and moving on. I decide what stays in my journal and I have decided that there is no room for thrash.
Journaling has been described in detail above. It can be the spark that you need, the answer that you are waiting for, or the light in a dark world. Offloading your thoughts and concerns on paper can really feel like a burden has been lifted, and that can really feel good. It can give you that spring in your step. It can lift you into atmospheric heights of happiness and feel-good feelings.
Journaling can also boost your levels of dopamine. Knowing that you are doing something good for yourself, enjoying the whole process of journaling, and associating it with pleasant memories can give your reward hormone a boost, making it more likely for you to return to it in the future.
Journaling has been a relaxant for me. On days when I am less busy and unhurried, I brew a cup of tea and have it with my journal. I write and then I stop. I take a sip of my healthy elixir and feel it warm my throat. I write again.
At times it has also been a healthy diversion for me. Like when all I need is a healthy change of environment. I bring my journal with me to the office. When I need a break, I take it out. I write. Maybe I’ll go to a different spot. The change of environment sometimes does wonders. When I’m ready, I go right back to work.
I bring my journal on my travels too. Whenever I have the opportunity, I sit down and write away. It holds fond memories.
Your journal can take on a futuristic element. You can write about your goals and dreams. It’s safe to explore and get carried along by your aspirations. For the moment, you are whisked into the possibility of an envisioned tomorrow.
Dreams are powerful. It can move you into that future and turn it into a reality. Journaling can help you set your goals and work towards them. So, dream away in your journal. It is one place that holds your yesterdays, todays and even tomorrows.
In the next blog post, I will talk about some ways you can get started on journaling. I will be introducing Nature Journaling, a highly therapeutic form of journaling that builds resilience for better mental health. Enjoy this short video on the benefits of journaling for our mental health
This is a guest post by Jamie Solomon, a dear friend for almost a decade and an enthusiast in making her life and the life of others, better every day.
Jamie is wife to an amazing husband and mother to four incredible kids. A stay-at-home mom who occasionally gets paid for her work. In between all these, she thinks and writes. As she tries to figure out life and understand its complexities, she aims to live life to the fullest, with her warts and all.
Making others happy, makes her happy too. She enjoys good company over a cup of coffee. She is a fan of dark chocolate, Greek yogurt, and cashew nuts. She is fond of learning, sharing, and meeting new people. Audible is a game-changer for her. She can ride a motorbike, has bungee jumped. She loves nature journaling and birdwatching.