Why Journal? The Benefits and How to Start.
If you google ‘ways to relax, become more mindful, or easy ways to de-stress,’ chances are, journaling always will be on the list.
Ask any lifelong journaler, and they’ll tell you a diary is more than a notebook. It’s a survival tool, a meditation practice, and a record of a life, all in one.
Although it’s been around for thousands of years, journaling has rapidly increased in popularity and is now a much more common practice especially when it comes to beneficial self care practices for women. From self-help blogs to famous authors like Deepak Chopra, everyone is talking about the life-changing benefits of learning how to journal.
Despite its recent soar in popularity, this isn’t just a new wellness trend. If practised consistently, it can transform your mental health, emotional well-being, and even physical well-being.
Science supports the positive effect of journaling on our mental health. According to Dr. Elizabeth Gilbert, the Head of Research at Psychology Compass, decades of research backs up the benefits of journaling when it comes to reducing anxiety, easing depression, working through trauma, and setting goals.
“If there are stressful things happening in your life, journaling trains you to stop, react, and make sense of it all,”ELizabeth Gilbert says. “Even just make a narrative about it. Tell it in a story in a way that makes sense.”
What is journaling?
For all its well known benefits, though, creating a regular journaling habit can seem daunting and many people feel overwhelmed by the looming possibility of a blank page.
The key when it comes to journaling is to bear in mind that journaling isn’t about being perfect. This is a practice that is 100% just for you.
Most of the writing we do daily has an intended audience, whether it be for work or even through social media platforms. But journaling is a personal practice that you can do anywhere, at any time with no other eyes on your words except for your own.
So what is journaling? Journaling is about looking inward and simply having an honest conversation with yourself. It is a written account of your thoughts and feelings as you navigate your daily life.
The beauty of journaling is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s a deeply personal experience that can take many forms.
Developing a journaling habit can help you work through your emotions, especially when you’re feeling anxious or confused. It can also help you grow, become more self-aware, and gain meaningful insights.
For these reasons, journaling is a powerful self-improvement tool.
Types of journaling
Journaling is an incredibly flexible practice that can be easily tailored to your needs and whims.
You may be surprised to learn that there are various different ways you can approach journaling, and finding a style or way of approaching journaling is the best way for you to make it a routine practice.
This is simply free form writing, allowing whatever wants to come from your mind to the paper to be free. It involves sharing whatever’s on your mind that day—the good, the bad, and the ugly! There are no rules, no prompts, no time frames or word counts, its really just about getting out what needs to come out to help you feel lighter and clearer.
The famous writer Julia Cameron developed what is now commonly known as ‘the morning pages’ This technique involves handwriting three pages of thoughts first thing in the morning when you awake. The stream-of-consciousness method is meant to illuminate thought patterns and unlock creativity. Ideally this is done every day first thing, and the consistency is a big part of the process with the morning pages.
Mindfulness journaling involves describing your current surroundings or emotional experiences in detail—paying attention to all five senses. It’s a way to get out of your own head and connect to the present moment. If you have a lot on your mind and need something to break that rhythm becoming acutely aware of your surroundings can offer a real shift and new space to breathe.
Gratitude journaling is writing down everything in your lif eor in the day that you feel grateful for. This is the journaling method that has been researched most extensively for its role in mental health. The list of things can be large things like your health or family, or smaller snippets like the feel of the sunshine on your skin or the laughter of a child. The idea is that by bringing your awareness to positive situations, you’re training yourself to notice them more often and therefore, over time, become more positive and grateful in general.
The type-A journaler might enjoy the Bullet Journaling Method. It combines elements of a calendar, to-do list, and notebook and allows you to reflect, plan, and daydream all in one place. This can be considered a more ‘productive’ style of journaling but also allows you to express emotions within the context of your daily life and routines.
Dream journals are a place for you to write down and analyse your dreams from the night before. In the process, you’ll start to remember your dreams more clearly and might even get some insights into your subconscious. This can be a great place to start if you are unsure of what to write about and over time, you will likely notice transformations in your ability to recall vivid details of your dreams and how they may apply to your daily life. This can be very interesting!
Guided journaling is great for those who are new to the practice of journaling. This style of writing offers you built-in prompts and reflection exercises to spark ideas and allow writing to flow a little more easily. If you’re someone who gets stuck worrying about what to write, guided journals take all that pressure away and give you a little springboard for your thoughts to become written words.
Benefits of journaling
While the act of writing things down seems simple enough, the results are powerful. Here are just some of the benefits of keeping a journal.
Improves mental well-being
Mental health is a huge topic in the wellness world. Studies show that 4 in 10 adults in the United States have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression and these statistics are continually rising year after year, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic.
One way to deal with intense emotions and uncertainty during difficult times is to find a healthy outlet for them and a journal is a very safe and accessible way to do this. Journaling is proven to have a positive effect on mental health and reduce the effects of anxiety and depression. The calming effects of daily journaling can also help treat emotional exhaustion. For example, incorporating 20 minutes of journaling into your nighttime routine can help you unload heavy feelings of stress before bed.
Strengthens the immune system
While you tend to think about the mental and emotional benefits of journaling, it turns out that it can also offer physical benefits.
In a 2018 Cambridge study, participants were asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding the most stressful or upsetting events in their lives.
Four months later, those who wrote about their experiences for 15 minutes a day reported fewer visits to the doctor and fewer sick days.
Rather than taking your emotions out on others, journaling offers a safe space for you to share and unload your emotions, thoughts and ideas in a way that doesn’t create any conflict. Letting go of negative emotions is also a powerful way to move on and not get caught in a downward spiral. Furthermore, when it comes to expressing gratitude when journaling, gratitude has been proven to activate areas of the brain that are connected to positive emotions. Feeling grateful can overpower negative emotions, boost optimism, and increase compassion for yourself and for others.
Helps you work through challenges
Journaling is proven to help people heal past wounds and move onwards from challenging experiences. Whereas you may feel uncomfortable sharing your emotions and thoughts with others, a journal can be that soundboard that you seek without having to rely on anyone else.
A recent Duke University study asked participants who experienced a recent traumatic event to undergo a six-week writing program. This consisted of various writing prompts, including expressive, poetic, transactional, and mindful journaling. The study found that writing increased participants’ resilience and decreased stress.
Helps you set and accomplish goals
One of the most effective ways to achieve your goals is to write them down.
Putting your goals on paper helps you visualise them more clearly. Visualisation is a powerful technique that involves imagining that what you want to achieve is already yours.
A 202 study found that people who write down their goals have a much higher chance of accomplishing them when compared to those that don’t.
Increased emotional awareness
In today’s demanding world, it can be difficult to find time to look within and consider how you’re actually feeling.
Journals give you the opportunity to do just that, and they grant you safe space to name all the different emotions you may be feeling at any given moment.
Better health overall
Beyond reducing stress and boosting mood, research has shown that a consistent journaling practice can help lower blood pressure, deepen sleep, improve mental clarity and improve self-reported health overall.
Last but not least, journaling can help you get to know yourself a little better. Through journaling, you can organise your thoughts, alleviate stress, and challenge certain ideas and habits. You also have a space that allows you to write freely and see what appears. We become so used to holding up a mask or a version or ourselves to the world, that journaling can enable us to see other, lesser shown parts of ourselves where real insights can be found.
How to start journaling (and make it a habit)
Starting a journal can seem intimidating at first. Like any other habit, it takes a while before it becomes an effortless routine in your lifestyle.
Here are some journaling tips to help you start
Find the journaling techniques that work for you
Many people prefer keeping a paper journal because it helps them develop and express ideas more clearly. But putting pen to paper isn’t the only way to journal.
You may find that the ease of using a laptop makes journaling more enjoyable for you. You also don’t have to limit yourself to one method. When you first begin writing, it’s important to find the method that works best for you.
Let go of judgement
There’s no right or wrong way to journal. When you’re writing, it’s important to practice self-compassion and leave your inner critic at the door. Journaling is a judgement-free zone.
Don’t worry about things like grammar or spelling. You’re writing for your eyes only, not for an audience.
If you’re self-critical or afraid someone will read your journal, you tend to censor yourself and be less authentic and honest.
Keep expectations realistic
When you first begin journaling, don’t expect to write pages upon pages filled with insightful thoughts.
Having unrealistic expectations can actually discourage you from continuing your journaling practice because you don’t immediately see progress.
Like any other habit, you need to set realistic goals and take small steps in order to see results. Insights and patterns and even enjoyment of writing will evolve and strengthen over time. This is a practice with no end goal or results, so just enjoy the journey.
Create a writing routine
It’s easy to write on days when you’re feeling inspired and motivated. But what about when you sit down to write and nothing appears?! Creating a writing routine and scheduling journaling time can help you stay on track, even on days when you’re feeling uninspired. You may choose to write as soon as you wake up or perhaps before bed to clear your mind. Think about when you’d like to write, how long you’ll write for, and how often you’ll write. Morning or night? For five minutes or until you’ve written three pages? Every day or once a week? Get clear on this and it’ll make the habit thing a lot easier.
Start by writing down whatever’s on your mind. Don’t filter yourself or overthink it. Be honest. Let the thoughts flow. Think about what’s on your mind right now. What are those topics that you’re drawn to? What’s taking up your mental energy? Again, don’t get caught up on what flows through you, just allow it to be without judgement.
Are you ready to experience the benefits of journaling?
Ok, are you ready?! Grab that notebook or laptop and get writing! See how you feel after a few weeks of journaling. On retreat we often encourage guests to start a journaling practice. A retreat can be a great time to begin as you have time and space, you are outside of your normal routines, and often, this is when emotions, insights, dreams and goals may appear for you!
Find out more about our Bali wellness retreat packages here.
We would love to support you to become the most radiant, whole and healthy version of you.