Journaling is a cathartic experience of letting our thoughts seep and flow on a piece of paper, a moment when we picture our trauma and story wrapped in a souvenir of memories and feelings. We see ourselves channeling our inner thoughts and emotions in a distinguished yet intricate manner. The moment we decide to let go of judgment and become our unfiltered selves is when we truly begin to journal.
Journal writing is a practice where you can draw a map of your emotions and do a follow up with the consecutive thoughts that follow and are a part of your daily life. Some people like to write about their daily or weekly shenanigans while others dive deep in the pursuit of taking control of their consciousness.
Generally, the former likes to keep it casual and writes about frequent or occasional events of his daily life, while the latter likes to write about his life experiences that can cover various chapters from his past such as trauma, grief, sadness and loss of a loved one and he can also write about what’s making him vulnerable at the moment.
Journaling is a good way to introspect your feelings of fear, guilt, regret, anger and frustration. Writing helps you give direction to these sensitive feelings and lets you configure the cause and effect of these emotions on your overall well-being and life.
Journaling and its Good Effects on our Health
There are always pros and cons to a given condition or method. But first, let’s delve into the reasons why journaling can be good for your health.
Studies have helped researchers identify the benefits of practicing this painless, expense less and timeless ritual.
Let’s study some of the advantages of keeping a journal below-
Journaling and its relation to Good Sleep
Recording our thoughts can sometimes become intimidating, as we come eye to eye with sentiments that are junked in the outskirts of our conscious mind. We delay not only the confrontation with our emotions in the present moment, but also ignore our inner chatter causing it to spiral out of control so that it can take away our rights to sleep.
Dr. James Pennebaker, an American social psychologist who’s known for his works such as ‘Expressive Writing’, co-authored by John F. Evans, and ‘Opening up by Writing Down’, co-authored by Dr. Joshua M. Smyth, has given various insights into the workings of journaling in a paper published by The New York Times. Let’s highlight some of the valuable points we gathered from the paper.
Dr. Pennebaker explained that people who are in the habit of keeping a journal can effectively organise the happenings of an event in their minds. By writing about their bad experiences, they can understand their trauma in a better way.
This process not only helps the journal-keepers improve their working memory but also helps them declutter their minds from ruminating thoughts. As a result, they sleep well.
Dr. Pennebaker also briefed how the journal then helps us enhance the functioning of our immune system and elevates our mood, leaving us refreshed. This helps us bring balance in our work and social life.
Studies that Showed us a Bigger Picture of Journaling
Journal Writing is not a recent phenomenon. Nobody taught our ancestors about how they should start keeping a diary or a pen close to them; just in case they felt the need to write something. Some of us were just innately drawn to write and save our thoughts on a piece of paper.
Sometimes people just write about their feelings and skip the part where their thoughts matter. A good way to journal is by drawing a map of your emotions and then writing down the thoughts that follow these emotions so that you can get clarity in a given situation or sphere of life.
Journaling can become a hard process if all the attention is given solely to emotions, and none is spared for thoughts. Doing this can leave you overwhelmed and perplexed. Remember there is no pre-decided checkpoint that tells you to start or stop writing.
Scientific studies have broadened the scope of journaling to a large extent. From mindfulness to improved immunity, and from higher I.Q. to higher self-confidence, we have reaped so many benefits of maintaining a journal already.
However, journaling research is not all philosophy and real experiments are conducted to study the cause and effect of this ancient ritual.
In 2006, Science Direct published a research paper titled- ‘Emotional expression and psychological symptoms: A comparison of writing and drawing’ authored by K.M. Chan M.S.W., and Dr. K. Horneffer.
The experiment observed the participation of 92 participants. The participants were instructed to draw or journal events related to their day-to-day activities or the ones that are causing them stress. They were asked to exercise journaling twice every week, which was divided into fifteen-minute sessions.
Participants who followed the exercise rigorously were able to show significant decreases in signs of anxiety, isolation, and depressive thoughts, especially if they belonged to a group which was already suffering from these psychological problems. As a result, 80% of the participants found journaling comfortable in comparison to the 61% participants who found it hard to open up about their feelings.
One interesting thing to note in a study conducted in 2003 was the people who only drew during a similar time frame, exhibited a drop in mood levels. Researchers think that this decline happened because the participants who only drew couldn’t get the chance to rationally channel and process their bad experiences or traumatic thoughts.
How is Journaling Important to us?
Journaling is a good way to meditate on your thoughts and decisions. It helps you gain confidence in your decisions and can give you some time to be in touch with the present moment.
The shadow of our inner critic is always lurking around in the corner of our minds. She baits us into entering the self-deprecating cycle of thoughts, but when you write, you can see your thoughts flowing like a lucid stream and that helps you observe them objectively.
Jotting down the positive and negative thoughts in an organised manner is a way to release the burden off from your shoulders. You overthink less and try to see the problem for what it is and not what your mind is making it to be.
You practice honesty as you acknowledge your true feelings. Maintaining a journal is a way to show yourself love and care. Instead of hoarding all the sad and depressive thoughts in your heart, you can learn to free yourself by letting go your hard feelings.
Most people hesitate to express themselves in front of their friends and family. They feel reluctant to open up about their anxious feelings with anyone and thus unintentionally shut the door on the outer world.
However, this hesitation could be a cause of a past traumatic or abandonment experience someone might have faced in their childhood. In such cases, your diary can become a reliable friend for you. But remember there’s a whole world out there.
Studies have shown even greater improvement in those who have expressed and relayed their feelings with a professional or have taken therapy over a specific period. But we must not forget that not everyone has the means and cause to sign up for regular and expensive therapy sessions.
Starting the Ritual of Journaling
There is no hard and fast rule to journaling. You can manage the practice on your own without anyone’s help. Since you’re not writing a book, you would not need hours of your daytime.
Journaling is a flexible practice which can be exercised in your free time. Some people like to journal daily, some do it weekly, and some do it a couple of times a month. So, in the end everything boils down to what you want to journal about.
Since there is no rule, you can write about whatever comes to your mind, be it about your day or month. Was it a long day? Go ahead and jot it down in your secret diary. She will remain loyal to you. You can tell her about your fears or your dreams and she will accept them wholeheartedly.
A journaling technique called ‘Expressive Writing’ constructed by Dr. James W. Pennebaker is popular among diary-keeping enthusiasts. To get started, you need to think about an event or experience that has affected different parts of your life. It could be a past experience that still bothers you, is it causing a drift between you and your partner? Or are you not able to focus on your work because of it? Explore the reason and its cause.
Write down the thoughts that flow naturally to your mind. You will be able to understand yourself better. If later you get more thoughts rushing through, you can write down about them again but remember you’re not entering into negative or ruminating cycles of thoughts.
Recalling bad experiences is a hard experience in itself. You will end up elevating your pain if you keep revisiting the incident endlessly. Watch your thoughts more objectively to avoid falling into the traps of rumination.
In a paper published by The New York Times, Dr. James W. Pennebaker quotes- “My recommendation is to think of expressive writing as a life course correction. As opposed to something you have commit to doing every day for the rest of your life.”
Journaling has no maximum or minimum word or time limit. It could last up to 15, 20 or 25 minutes or whenever you wish to stop writing. Start slow and see if you can journal daily or just a couple of times a week or even less.