There are a lot of benefits to journaling, especially hand writing in a journal. Before I get into all the scientific stuff, let me just say it’s a great way to UNPLUG! We spend way too much time in front of screens. A TV screen, a computer screen, a phone or tablet screen. Curling up in a chair with pen and paper is relaxing, rejuvenating, stress lowering, etc.
Writing by hand is slower paced than typing on a keyboard, but it allows you time with your own thoughts and feelings. It gives you time to evaluate those thoughts and feelings. It also helps your focus. You have fewer distractions, no popups, no dings and bells going off. Just quiet time with yourself.
Now onto the science-y stuff…
A large body of research indicates that there are many mental and emotional benefits gained from journaling regularly. Studies have shown that as few as 15 to 20 minutes of journaling for 5 sessions or less were enough to help those who participated in the study deal with difficult and stressful events. It has also been proven effective in relation to people with cancer and other health challenges, serving as ‘writing therapy.”
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or ‘talk therapy’ has been shown to be just as effective as medication when it comes to mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Writing therapy can be even more effective because the person is writing for themselves only. There’s no need to censor what they say due to a fear of what the listener will think of them.
Now for the general benefits and stress relief…
Journaling about stressful events has been shown to be most effective when you write about events in a narrative form and including your emotions, rather than just noting down emotions only. This form of storytelling helps you make sense of what happened and your role in it. Journaling also allows you to explore different scenarios. It isn’t just a diary of exactly what happened, but what you could have done differently, what you learned from the situation, and so on. Journaling can, therefore, be part of what is termed reflective practice.
With reflective practice, you reflect on your skills, abilities, choices and decisions in order to try to improve your skills. If you’re a teacher, for example, or want to take more of a leadership role at work, reflective practice in your journal, in which you are honest about your strengths and weaknesses, can do a great deal to move you forward in your career.
Journaling will also make you a better writer. Writing every day for 15 minutes is bound to make you better at it. It can also provide a creative outlet in which you jot down all of the ideas that come to you. Many writers keep a journal or use a book small enough to be able to take it with them anywhere so they can jot down their thoughts whenever they come to them.
Writing down new ideas, experiences, and situations can help you make sense of them, and unravel complicated issues. Journals can also help you get more organized due to the profound changes that writing and communication can have on the brain, even if you are writing the journal only for yourself.
Journaling is ideal for setting goals and accomplishing them. You can’t track your progress if you don’t know where you’re going in the first place. A journal can help you track your achievement so they don’t get overlooked in the busy-ness of the day. You can also journal about mistakes you’ve made and use them as teaching moments.
Journaling can also be a good way to focus on an area in your life that you struggle with and feel is holding you back from being your best self. For example, you might struggle with procrastination. Keeping a to-do list and crossing the items off one by one as you accomplish them can help you overcome that bad habit and put better habits in its place.
If you’re always busy but aren’t sure where the time is going, a work diary or log of what you are doing, organizing in 15-minute increments, can show you where your time is being wasted. Then you can take steps to use those chunks of time more productively, including penciling in times to work out.
An exercise diary can also keep you on track. The suggested activity levels for all adults in the US is 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity, that is, an activity which boosts your heart rate, and strength training every other day for about 15 minutes a day. This can include light weights, resistance bands, or yoga. The only way to be sure you are meeting your daily requirements is to keep a progress journal.
If you struggle with excessive spending, a spending or financial journal could get you back on track. Sometimes couples keep a journal together, of times, spent with each other, special events, something important they are working on together as a team, and so on.
The only limit of the benefits of a journal is your imagination in terms of what you wish to write about and how you want to use it. Now that you know what a valuable tool a journal can be, it’s time to look at the best ways to start journaling. Stay tuned for that post.