Journaling. That act of scribbling down our deepest, darkest feelings and desires, spilling our hearts out about our relationships, our professional disappointments or making note of our daily experiences. Many of us kept a diary in our teenage years, but as we grew, we stopped writing and pushed the very idea of journaling to the back of our minds.
Journaling has many proven benefits and is an excellent habit. It can include an actual run down of what happened during the day or it can be nothing more than musings. It’s an entirely personal deal, but journaling can help us understand ourselves and the impact our habits have on our life effectively. It can help us to prioritize the things we want and understand where we might be unconsciously blocking our objectives.
We all live busy lives. Much of the time we don’t stop to think about what we’re doing, how we feel, or whether our lifestyle is healthy or not. So, as time goes on, we just carry on in the same manner and acting with little awareness, paying no attention to life. However, unless we take time to reflect and think about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it – including how we feel about it – can we really know ourselves? Truly? Can we really know what we want or what we don’t want?
Journaling is a great self-reflection tool and can lead to greater insights into the nature of life. However, in order for journaling to be effective, we have to be open to its power and benefits. We have to be honest with ourselves when we’re writing and be brave enough to bare our soul. The journal is a safe space which nobody else is going to read, so we must express ourselves fully and meticulously.
The Health and Wellbeing Benefits of Journaling
On an emotional level, journaling allows us to reflect on our present, and ultimately decide whether we are happy with our current life experience and the decisions we have taken so far. It helps us identify our fears and worries, and it allows us to unblock the mind. By writing things down, we declutter the brain placing our thoughts and feelings on a sheet of paper. Journaling is cathartic and it gives us space to contemplate.
But there are other positive health benefits.
For instance, journaling helps us to work through stressful situations in life. Journaling is often referred to as a stress management strategy, because it helps us to identify our stressors and gives us the chance to unburden the mind, keeping things in perspective.
This also helps us improve our mood keeping anxiety in check. When we’re writing things down and transferring them from our mind, we gain more clarity and thus tend to reduce the act of overthinking. Overthinking is a fast track to stress, anxiety, self-doubt and depression, so doing all we can to counter overthinking is a prudent step towards inner wellbeing. Journaling has also been shown to improve happiness, because we’re able to express gratitude in our writing and identify the things we are grateful for, and the experiences that have brought us joy.
On a strictly health-based subject, there is evidence to suggest that by writing on a daily basis, we may improve the function of our immune system. James Pennebaker, a famous researcher and psychologist at the University of Texas who worked with polygraphers from the FBI, contends that regular journaling boosts our immune systems, by strengthening T-lymphocytes. Through his research, Pennebaker also found writing about stressful events – especially those kept as a secret – acted as a great stress-management tool.
The most obvious benefit however is on an emotional level. When we journal, we’re able to sift through our emotions far more effectively. We can quickly identify if we’re indulging in bad coping mechanisms and make any necessary adjustments or lifestyle changes. By journaling, we almost automatically become more mindful and we start to live in the moment, reflecting on the here and now, rather than worrying about the future or reliving the past.
All of this means that we become more confident and understand ourselves far better. We are able to identify our inner needs and align ourselves with them far more effectively, understanding not only ourselves but those around us too. It’s only when we stop, take a moment and reflect on where we are that we can see things far more clearly.
How Does Journaling Rewire the Brain?
Journaling can also help us rewire the brain and improve the capacity of our memory, allowing us to focus and concentrate far more effectively.
Any habit done daily ultimately results in physiological changes within the brain, as the body builds new neural passages to support our new habit. A process well known as neuroplasticity. Building a neural passageway through journaling can be highly effective, as we are training ourselves to be open with our feelings, to introspect and to focus on the positive aspects of all our experiences.
It’s a good idea to write manually. Whilst typing out our thoughts and memories can be effective, writing with a pen and paper is far more meaningful. It’s a manual movement of thoughts and feelings from our brain, down to our fingers, and out onto the page.
In order to rewire the brain in the most effective way, we need to journal in an effective way. It’s no good dwelling on negatives at all times, as that’s simply going to reaffirm a low mood. Instead, we must focus on gratitude, positivity and affirmations. By doing that, we reprogram the brain for happiness.
How to Journal
So, now that know the power of journaling and we’re ready to let it enter our life, how do we start?
The good news is, that there is no right or wrong way to journal. We can use a dairy, plain paper or even our laptop or phone if we truly want to. We should however try to write every single day to make a habit out of it. Committing ten to fifteen minutes a day is a great way to start.
An excellent practice, would be to write our experiences and what we learnt from them, noting every single positive aspect of the day. Writing about our interactions with others, will also help us better understand our relationships. Any difficulties – especially emotional ones – should be written with as much detail as possible. This can help us detect trends in the future, when we see the same things happening over and over again. Last but not least, it is wise to make a note of everything we have to do the next day before we go to bed. This has shown to reduce stress and nighttime overthinking, making this exercise crucial for those who suffer from any sleeping disorders.
If we take journalling seriously and commit to it, we can greatly change our mindset and achieve all those things we have always dreamt of. It is recommendable to write with depth, rather than simply jotting down the day’s events in a monotone manner. Writing conversationally, is the best strategy, as it we learn more about ourselves when we converse with ourselves. By doing this we will soon find our journal brings us a greater sense of depth, brining great value to our lives.