Journaling is basically sitting down with a pen (or computer) and paper and writing what is going on with you. It is like keeping a diary. Rather than writing down just the events of the day, however you wrap those events with feelings and thoughts – of what was real in them for you.
Journal writing began for me quite a few years ago when there were many confusing events going on in my life. I needed to make sense of them. I started with and have continued to use an inexpensive spiral lined notebook from my local grocery store. (I had wanted to use fancy journals from the Hallmark store but found that they intimidated me.) I didn’t feel the need to write every day, but just when I was inspired to do so. The mere act of transforming my experiences into legible words always provided me with a sense of relief/joy.
James Penebaker PhD, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Texas, has done a great deal of research on the benefits of journaling. The following are some benefits of journal writing that he and his colleagues have shown to produce stunning results:
Ease Your Pain – In general, people who journal have significantly less distress (i.e. suffering, sorrow, pain), feel less depressed, and have an overall better mood in most areas of their lives.
What Me Worry? – Do you continually worry about the same things? Simply writing down your thoughts and feelings can make worries become more manageable.
Journaling Is Healthy – We often experience anxiety and depression during difficult times in our lives. Expressive writing can be an important tool in coping at these times. (However, if the trauma is very serious, it is important to consult your therapist or doctor.)
There’s More! – Research has found that people who have a journaling practice become employed sooner after losing their jobs, miss fewer days of work, have better overall athletic performances, and better working memories.
Yes, It Does Get Better Than That! If this isn’t enough good news, expressive writing has also been significantly related to the long-term stability of romantic relationships. Dr. Penebaker and his colleagues have discovered that when writing about your relationship, you and your significant other will use more positive emotion words, which can result in better outcomes for relationships.
This can all happen when you commit to only twenty minutes a day. Don’t think about what to write, just start writing and the words should come. However, if you need help getting started, here are a few topics:
- What am I grateful for today?
- What happened today that truly surprised me?
- Is there something I can do tomorrow that will stretch me out of my “comfort zone?”
Don’t worry about the neatness or the grammar. Don’t self-censor. Let go of “shoulds” and just write what comes.
Welcome to a habit that will help you live longer, reduce stress, improve relationships, know yourself better, as well as solve many other life problems more effectively. And only for the cost of:
- A paper, pen or computer and
- A few minutes of quiet privacy each day.