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The Practice and Benefits of Journaling

I am sure we have all heard of journaling at some point of our lives. Might have even kept one from time to time. What’s the big hype about?? Why are so many people turning to it?

I was first introduced to the idea of journaling back in elementary school. I recall my teacher instructing me to take out my journal and write about our weekends or what was going on during the week. At the time I didn’t think too much of it. If anything, I hated the thought of having to write something so personal down for someone else to read but I did as I was told. Now decades after my first journal entry I am reflecting on the practice of journaling. There was a purpose behind it, if one could say, a method to the madness. Research suggests that journaling or expressive writing is therapeutic as well as a great way to develop creative writing skills. As English wasn’t my first language, it was a way for me to start refining my writing abilities allowing me to not be critical of what I was writing.

As a teenager I found myself keeping a dairy. A place that was my own, free for self-expression, for writing anything I wanted without any set criteria. I used it mostly to create poems, draw, and at times just vent. I am sure we can all relate to that!

Journaling has many advantages. It can be utilized based on your needs. Research has shown it to be a great tool for the following, but its benefits are not limited to this list:

  1. Staying organized
  2. Stress management
  3. Improves immune function via stress reduction
  4. Improvement of pain
  5. Self-reflection / introspection /self-awareness
  6. Promotes problem solving
  7. Memory aid
  8. Recording goals and helping with accountability
  9. Reduces anxiety and depression
  10. Helps process thoughts, emotions and experiences
  11. Promotes creativity
  12. Self-expression

These are uncertain times, especially now with what is happening around the world and at home with the spread of disease, restrictions and the return to school or work. Life has potentially turned upside down; changes in routine and schedules, the demands of life itself. Living during a pandemic can be especially hard on people with social isolation and the impacts on mental health throughout the world can be seen with the rising number of individuals experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression. When there is so much we have no control over, journaling offers something we can control. A form of self-care practice, a practical approach to promoting psychological well-being.  Keeping a journal can be beneficial even if one is not experiencing a source of stress, it is a great way to help document important things that are going on in one’s life. It’s a great way to practice gratitude, just setting some time aside for yourself to slow down from everyday demands.

 How to get started…

  • Start with selecting a mode of keeping your journal. What works best for you? Do you gravitate to pen and paper or electronic? An electronic version might be useful when inspiration strikes, and you want to make a note of it, especially if you are on the go. A paper and pen version is also great when you want to disconnect from all electronics and just focus on the task at hand. Whatever mode you choose make sure it something that is easily accessible to you.
  • Like any habit, we know it takes effort to get started. Journaling is no different than any other habit or routine that we find we want to implement into out daily lives. Starting a new habit or changing one can take up three months to develop and once it becomes a routine it is easier to maintain. Keeping that in mind be gentle with yourself.
  • Set time aside to journal.  What will work for your lifestyle? Daily? A few days a week? Weekly? Setting a reminder on your phone may be helpful to incorporate it into a routine that can be sustained for longer periods. Think of journaling as habit, to reap the therapeutic benefits of journaling, research suggests continuing the practice even when the stressor is no longer present. Once you have incorporated journaling as part of your life it will become second nature, so just remember it will become easier with time.
  • Set out your intentions, what you hope to accomplish with this journal.
  • Once you are ready – get started!

 References:

  1. Chan, K. M., & Horneffer, K. (2006). Emotional expression and psychological symptoms: A comparison of writing and drawing. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 33(1), 26–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2005.06.001
  2. Esterling, B. A., Antoni, M. H., Fletcher, M. A., Margulies, S., & Schneiderman, N. (1994). Emotional disclosure through writing or speaking modulates latent Epstein-Barr virus antibody titers. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(1), 130–140. doi:10.1037/0022-006x.62.1.130
  3. Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: The psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), 664–666. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp12X659466
  4. Hooley, J. M., Fox, K. R., Wang, S. B., & Kwashie, A. N. D. (2018). Novel online daily diary interventions for nonsuicidal self-injury: A randomized controlled trial. BMC Psychiatry, 18(1), 264. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1840-6
  5. Kim-Godwin, Y. S., Kim, S.-S., & Gil, M. (2020). Journaling for self-care and coping in mothers of troubled children in the community. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 34(2), 50–57. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apnu.2020.02.005
  6. Laird, K. T., & Stanton, A. L. (2021). Written expressive disclosure in adults with irritable bowel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 43, 101374. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2021.101374
  7. Ullrich, P. M., & Lutgendorf, S. K. (2002). Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine: A Publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 24(3), 244–250. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15324796ABM2403_10
  8. Utley, A., & Garza, Y. (2011). The Therapeutic Use of Journaling With Adolescents. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 6(1), 29–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/15401383.2011.557312

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