The therapeutic benefits of journaling have been scientifically proven. Journaling can be an effective tool for stress management, the processing of difficult emotions, and creating personal growth. It has also been linked to important health benefits like decreasing the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions, increasing cognitive functioning, increasing the immune system, and counteracting the negative effects of stress.
If you were curious about it, but aren’t quite sure where/how to start, read on for a few tips to help you get started.
Buy a Journal
This seems like the obvious first step. However, what kind of a journal you purchase is important. You can choose from the most beautiful blank books you can find, to a more functional notebook, or your computer. If you go with the blank book option, you can decide between lined or blank pages, with a variety of pens. Use your book to reflect your creativity, or go with functionality first.
It’s all up to you and your tastes. Just go with something you feel comfortable with.
Set Aside Time
One of the most difficult aspects of journaling is not the journaling itself, but finding time to write. It’s important to block off about twenty minutes each day to write, but if you find it difficult to set aside that much time, especially in the beginning, even taking five minutes to jot down a few ideas is better than waiting until you have the full twenty — that could make the difference between forming a habit and merely the memory of when you wanted to create this new habit.
Many people prefer to write in the morning as a way to start their day, or before bed as a way to reflect upon and process the day’s events. However, if your lunch break or some other time is the only window you have, take the time whenever you can get it!
Just start. Don’t think about what to say; just begin writing and the words will come. However, if they don’t come automatically, having some ideas to prompt you can get your fingers moving. If you need some help getting started, here are some topics to begin the process:
- The best and worst days of your life
- If you could have three wishes…
- Your possible purpose in life
- Your childhood memories and surrounding feelings
- Where you’d like to be in two years
- Your dreams/hopes/fears
- What was important to you five years ago, and what’s important to you now
- What are you grateful for? You might want to start with just one thing, big or small
- What aspect(s) of your life need improving
- How is your mental/physical/emotional health
- What are some challenges you are dealing with at the moment
- Best/Worst case scenario
Write about Thoughts and Feelings
As you write, don’t just vent negative emotions or catalog events; write about your feelings, but also your thoughts surrounding emotional events. Research shows much greater benefits from journaling when participants write about emotional issues from a mental and emotional framework. Relive events emotionally, try to construct solutions and find the lesson(s) learned. Using both aspects of yourself helps you process the event, be more constructive (not reactive), and find solutions to lingering problems.
Keep Your Journal Private
If you’re worried that someone else may read your journal, you’re much more likely to self-censor, and you won’t achieve the same benefits from writing. To prevent the worry and maximize journaling effectiveness, you can either get a book that locks or keep your book in a locked or hidden place. If using a computer, you can password-protect your journal so you’ll feel safe when you write.
- Try to write each day.
- Writing for at least 20 minutes is ideal, but if you only have 5 minutes, write for 5.
- If you skip a day or 3, just keep writing when you can. Don’t let a few days of skipping discourage you from continuing to write in your journal.
- Don’t worry about neatness or even grammar. Just getting your thoughts and feelings on paper is more important than perfection.
- Try not to self-censor; let go of “shoulds”, and just write what comes.
In the end of the day, all you will really need is a journal, an open and honest mind/heart, a pen or a computer, and a few minutes of quiet privacy each day. Sounds like a no brainer since it’s cost effective, a smart investment for your sanity/mental health, and not to mention an easy nonpharmacological way to beat bouts of anxiety.
Anderson, C.M., & Mesrobian Maccurdy, M. (1999). Writing and Healing: Toward an Informed Practice. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Ullrich, P.M., & Lutgendorf, S.K. (2002). Journaling About Stressful Events: Effects of Cognitive Processing and Emotional Expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24(3): 244-50.