Keeping a journal might sound like something you should have outgrown in middle school, but that’s just a stereotype. Writing in a journal is actually very beneficial, and recommended by many psychiatrists as an accompaniment to, or even a substitution for, therapy. Here’s some information on why you should keep a journal, followed by some tips on how to get started.

1. Clear your mind.

Writing down what happens during your day is a great way to clear your mind. You can write down what happened and how you felt about it, and then you don’t have to keep those thoughts in your head anymore. Writing stuff down is often just as good as sharing with a friend because you’re getting it off of your shoulders. Sometimes writing is even better because you can be totally honest without worrying what the other person will think of you.

2. Improve mental health.

Writing in a journal is a great way to relieve stress and improve your mental health because, as mentioned above, your mind is cleared. You don’t have too many thoughts running around in your head because you’ve let them loose on paper. Studies have shown that even writing for 15–20 minutes on a stressful topic leads to significantly better physical and psychological outcomes. The practice is so highly regarded by mental health professionals that there’s even a Center for Journal Therapy!

3. Be creative!

You don’t have to keep a straightforward record of what happened every day or how you felt when something happened. Keeping a journal means you have the freedom to write what you want, how you want. Hey, you don’t even have to write! Draw sketches – maybe the doodles help you get more down quickly. Write in bubble letters, or include photos and mementos of things that happen each day.

4. Keep a record of your life.

Whether it’s for yourself or for others, keeping a journal means you’re keeping a record of your life. If you’re only writing for yourself, you can use the journal as a look back at past mistakes, and use them as reminders to not do the same things again. You can put a positive spin on it by writing down the highlights of your day so you’ll remember the good things. If you’re writing for others, like your siblings or children, you can write an autobiography so your stories won’t die with you.

5. Holding yourself accountable.

Writing regularly is a great way to hold yourself accountable – for therapeutic writing, as well as other aspects of your life. It’s a fun exercise to try to write at the same time every day – either when you first wake up and want to share your hopes and dreams for the day, or before bed, when you can write about everything that happened. Once you’re able to write regularly, you can apply this discipline and schedule structure to other aspects of your life. You’ll see the benefits in a variety of areas, but especially in your work life, where your written communication can improve and you will find yourself completing writing-intensive projects more easily.

Now that you know some of the benefits to keeping a journal, I bet you’re itching to start your own. Before you get started, think about the following items to make sure you’re going to journal in the way that’s best for you.

1. Get a new notebook.

This is my favorite part of starting a journal! I love going to the bookstore or stationery store to peruse the aisles of blank books. You might want to pick a standard spiral-bound notebook so the defined lines will help keep your thoughts on track. Or maybe you want a beautiful leather-bound book with gilded pages to inspire your most creative thoughts.

2. Sign up for a blog.

Maybe you don’t want to be bogged down by a physical notebook at all. In that case, a blog might be the best way for you to keep track of your thoughts. There are many different blog sites online, the most popular, and easiest to use, being WordPress and Blogger. Be aware that these sites are public, and you might be easily tracked down by people who know your name or email address. You can use a screen name, or sign up for a blogging platform with a privacy control, but it’s still best to be careful with what you’re putting online.

3. Download an app.

Maybe you want the freedom of a digital journal, but don’t want to post publicly on a blog. You don’t want to tote around a paper journal, but you already tote around your smartphone, so why not employ it? There are countless journal apps for your smartphone that range from giving you the look of an actual journal page, to giving you a place to easily jot down notes.

4. Let your thoughts loose.

Once you pick your medium, let your thoughts loose. This is the one place where you don’t need to censor yourself, so don’t get bogged down with wondering who’s going to read behind you and how much you want them to know. Regardless of how you’re trying to improve your writing skills, be careful with editing your journal. If you write a sentence, then pause to edit it, you’ll never get your thoughts down, and you’ll probably get easily frustrated. Write everything down as it comes to you, without thinking of how it sounds or what word might work better. This is the best way to get therapeutic benefits from journaling.

5. Don’t set guidelines.

Maybe one day you want to rehash an argument verbatim, but the next day you want to tape in some photos of your visit to the new art gallery. You can even use a journal to keep track of your accomplishments at work or in your personal life, and get a self-esteem boost every time you look over it! The looser you are with keeping your journal, the more excited you’ll be to sit down and work on it. If you let yourself be creative and free, then you’ll be more likely to want to write every day, and then you’ll not only have a more complete record of your life and thoughts, but you’ll also feel better by getting all those thoughts out of your head and onto paper!

Featured photo credit: Ethan Lofton via flickr.com

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