Journaling is the process of writing down our thoughts and feelings; it is an internal process using the written word to express oneself. Writing by hand stimulates and trains the brain in a way digital communication doesn’t. Journaling is about writing for oneself—grammar, spelling and neatness do not come into play. It is also about being creative in ones’ expression of self, this can be achieved through drawing pictures, word maps, bullet journaling, dot grids, story writing or trackers.
Many of my clients have said they have thought about journaling, but that they don’t know what to write about. I tell them writing in their journal is the only way to know what they should be writing about. One way to get started is by doing the ‘brain drain’, which is expelling hot feelings, the ones that tend to creep into our thoughts and our subconscious; the ones that brew and grow bigger. These are the ruminations that keep one dwelling, stewing, staying stuck or filled with anxiety.
The other thing I hear a lot from my clients is they want to journal but they don’t feel they can keep up with it. Journal writing doesn’t have to be an enormous commitment; it doesn’t have to be approached as a lifelong, daily task that feels like an obligation. Rather, successful journaling can feel less intimidating when it’s approached as short-term expressive writing, as a life course correction, or a temporary self-exploration of sorts.
Journaling is a form of self-care. It allows one to remove thoughts and feelings from their body and gives them a place to put them; it’s a way to clear the head and the heart. Some benefits from practicing journaling as self-care are improved memory, better/fuller sleep, decreased stress, worry and anxiety.
Journaling is fundamentally an organization system; keeping a journal helps to organize events in our mind. It allows for one to express and label emotions, acknowledged experiences and understand the effects of the experience on them. It also helps one to make the important connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Expressive writing helps one to reflect, associate, and construct a meaningful personal narrative about events, reactions to events and effects of events. Journaling brings clarity and enables one to place their experience within a context that makes sense for them.
A few tips to get started…
- Write Only for Yourself—no judgement, be creative
- Write for 15-20 minutes at a time
- Write Continuously—Once you begin writing, write continuously without stopping.
- Repeat—if you run out of things to say, repeat what you said for the allowed time
- Support Yourself—writing can bring up big feelings; practice self-care
- Feelings—Typically the feeling only lasts a few minutes; see it, feel it, allow it
- Stop—if writing evokes feelings you cannot cope with and get support
Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological science, 8(3), 162-166.
Pennebaker, J. W. (2004). Writing to heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma and emotional upheaval. New Harbinger Publisher.