Some people might think journaling is just for recording bits of daily life. But usually it’s more than that. Science has proven that keeping a journal is good for your mental health, as it helps you process events, vent out emotions, sharpen your mind and even drives creativity.
In a recent study published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, researchers found that writing three to five times for 15 minutes a session was enough to help the participants deal with emotional and even traumatic events. But it is not enough to simply write about events. How you write about them is also important.
In another study, researchers told participants to write about one of three things. One group focused on how they felt about a stressful situation. A second group wrote about the thoughts and feelings they had when dealing with stress. The third group was told to write factually, without emotion, about events in the media.
The participants who wrote about their thoughts and feelings on an event were actually able to see the positive benefits of the event. They were less likely to focus on the trauma or anxiety.
Those who wrote only about their emotions actually suffered more. This was possibly because they focused on their negative emotions while they were writing.
But research says writing out those negative thoughts is still preferable to keeping them inside because even writing about negative thoughts prevents you from avoiding them, which is linked to helping you be able to cope with stress more effectively. Avoidance is a huge issue when it comes to dealing with trauma. According to Kitty Klein, a researcher from North Carolina State University, “If you’re suffering from a traumatic or stressful event, your ability to pay attention and focus on life’s stressors isn’t what it should be.”
Journal writing can help you focus on the problem at hand, ensuring that you don’t bottle everything up inside.
How It Helps
Even if you’re not going through a stressful period, regular journal writing is still a useful tool. Rather than processing your emotions and thoughts, you can use a journal to help remind you of your accomplishments and mistakes. Although it may seem like a record of all the mundane details, like your new dishwasher or your meeting at work; when you return to it later you will have a new perspective on your day. Then, you can really begin to re-evaluate where you are and where you came from.
Putting a pen to paper is a cathartic and private way for you to deal with the stress of your daily life, whatever that stress might be. When you keep a journal, you’re able to approach and release the anxiety you have. Using a journal allows you to process your emotions in a place that is safe and secure.
Ultimately, keeping a journal allows you to relive the day or week’s events with perspective, a very valuable tool when it comes to dealing with the hard stuff.
How to Get Started
The most important thing about writing is that it needs to be about you. Your decision to start a journal should reflect anyone else’s needs or ambitions. Thus, your decision should be a highly personal choice so that it means more to you and so that you’ll stick with it.
If it suits you, the traditional pen and paper method is a fast way to get started. If you’re looking for more structure you can look for notebooks that feature prompts like “Name 3 Successes Today.”
If you’re living your life online, you can use journaling apps and websites. Here you can combine your thoughts with photos, videos and links. You can also use a simple word processor and keep everything stored on the cloud.
Another option is to try blogging. If you’re looking for outside perspective or you want to share your story, there is no better platform than the internet to do so.
You can try one of these options or all of them. There are no rules when it comes to keeping a journal. Just remember to take the appropriate steps to protect yourself if you want to maintain your privacy.
Remember, you don’t need to be a master of prose to write a journal. Your journal is a judgement free zone. Instead, keep your writing time all about you and you’ll quickly see the results.