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September 20, 2021 • read
Six reasons you should start journaling
Journaling isn’t just for angsty teens. The self-help movement has taken journaling mainstream, with books promising that it’ll manifest your dreams and even help you sleep better. Journaling may be having a moment, but it’s more than just a fad — it can also be an important tool for self-care. Here are six reasons you should start journaling, and how to do it optimally.
1. As a keepsake for your memories
Those pictures on your phone don’t always tell the whole story. Life moves fast and it’s easy to forget smaller yet equally special moments. Jotting down those memories like a wonderful family holiday or an incredible trip you took can help you preserve those moments. Saving the ticket stubs from your European backpacking trip isn’t the same as rereading the stories of what you did while you were there. And reliving those happy moments by visiting old journal entries can help to boost your mood when you’re feeling down.
2. For self-care and emotional well-being
Something about writing down a thought gives it more power. This can make journaling a potent way to shape your thoughts and even your self-image. One study found that participants who wrote their negative thoughts on a piece of paper and then threw it away were better able to discard those negative thoughts. And the opposite was true too. When participants kept the piece of paper in their pocket, they were more likely to use that thought to form subsequent judgements. This makes journaling a great tool for ridding yourself of negative thoughts and feelings, and for incorporating positive affirmations into your life.
3. To work through emotional events
Journaling can help you organize your thoughts and process your feelings about a situation. This can make it a great — and cost-effective — complement to therapy or counselling. Asking participants to write about a traumatic situation in an attempt to understand it and their feelings about it can help them see the positive outcomes of the situation. This can also make journaling a great way of acknowledging and processing trauma, which is why it’s often incorporated into different therapeutic modalities. It’s important, however, to distinguish between expressing emotions helpfully versus obsessing over a topic. If you find yourself ruminating over the same highly fraught memory, the process likely isn’t helpful, and it might be best to try something different. In this case, counselling or therapy with a licensed therapist might be a better fit.
4. To improve your physical health
While the mental health benefits of journaling might seem obvious, the past decades have seen a growing body of evidence showing that journaling can promote physical health as well. Many of these studies use a specific model of inviting participants to write about traumatic, emotional, or stressful events for 15-20 minutes on a few different occasions. And despite different patient populations — everyone from university students to patients with AIDS — the results are impressive. In one study, patients with AIDS saw an increase in their CD4 cells which are part of immune functioning. For cystic fibrosis patients, expressive writing reduced the number of days they later spent in hospital. Other studies linked journaling with better lung and liver functioning, and lower blood pressure as well. While many of these studies were small, their results are promising — suggesting that physical health benefits are yet another potential reason you should start journaling.
5. To set goals and track your progress
Journaling is also useful when it comes to day-to-day practicalities. While keeping records of your to-do lists might not be that inspiring, journaling is a great way to track your goals. Having written proof of when you set a goal keeps you accountable and allows you to make the goals as general or as specific as you like, and even set achievement milestones for yourself. Over time, you’ll be able to see how you worked to realize the goal, or where the challenges to achieving it lay. Using the SMART acronym is a great way to do this: make your goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
6. To improve your communication skills
Ever notice that each time you tell a story it gets better? It’s not that you begin to embellish the details, it’s that you’re honing what you want to say. Journaling can help with that too. Journaling communicates your thoughts to the page, forcing you to shape them coherently and in detail. Doing this regularly helps you sharpen your communication skills, making writing easier and more fluid over time.
There are many reasons you should start journaling, but how you do it isn’t as important. You may have heard about morning pages, and how integral the act of writing by hand is to that process. But handwriting isn’t a key component of creativity for everyone. If you prefer to jot down your thoughts on your phone, that works. Journaling doesn’t have to mean putting pen to paper unless you want it to. When you choose to journal isn’t crucial either. If you benefit from recording your thoughts daily, that’s great. If that’s too onerous and you prefer to do it a couple of times a week instead, that’s just as good. The act of writing is what’s important, not the where, when, or how.