Imagine having that no-judgment friend. They are the ones you can go to when you need to vent and talk about your feelings, no matter how messed up or complicated they may feel. They are there for you at all times of the day. They hear your half-baked ideas and are invested in the complexity of your inner world. They help you process your feelings, practice gratitude, plan your life, and even discover solutions to your problems.
What I’ve just described is my handy dandy journal. I am an avid journaler and it has been my lifeline these last few years. Although I knew how much I benefited from journaling, I didn’t realize that there was science that backed up my intuitive feelings about the practice. Journaling is a perfect practice to add to your New Year resolutions (happy New Year, by the way!). There are so many benefits to having a journaling practice that people don’t often realize.
So in this post, I’ll explain my experience with the practice, share the benefits of journaling that I’ve learned, and speak on the ways you can incorporate journaling in your day-to-day life.
What is journaling?
Journaling is the practice of writing your feelings and thoughts from your inner world onto paper (or digitally too!). It’s capturing all of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Having a journal is a bit different from having a diary. Although some people use the two words interchangeably, a diary is used more to capture what you do every day, like the series of events that happened in your day. A journal, on the other hand, is used to capture and process what you’re thinking and feeling. Journaling tends to be a reflective and introspective process.
My experience with journaling
Throughout my 26 years, there has been no better way for me to express my thoughts than through writing and journaling. The journal was one of my dearest friends because it provided me the space to express myself. In some way, my younger self knew that there was power and freedom in self-expression.
I kept a journaling practice throughout my adolescence but stopped after high school. With the busyness that undergraduate studies and part-time jobs bring, I let my journaling practice fall to the wayside. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve found my way back to it because of therapy. My therapist suggested I try journaling to process emotions after sessions and work through some of my challenges.
They would provide journal prompts that had me question my needs and wants, explore my feelings, and capture what I’d say to someone if I communicated my boundaries and needs honestly. When I wrote down my thoughts and feelings, I was able to understand and process them better. And I was able to articulate my thoughts and feelings more effectively to others. Journaling became one of the ways I started learning about myself. I would gain clarity about myself and situations that I wouldn’t have gained otherwise.
As an HSP/introvert, this makes total sense. We HSPs/introverts tend to need time to reflect and process feelings and situations. Journaling provides that pause to do so through one of our favorite ways to communicate: through the written word. But journaling is not only for the HSP or introvert, it’s for everyone and benefits all!
The power and benefits of journaling
When I restarted my journaling practice, it felt like going back home. I remembered how free I was to express myself with no judgment. I didn’t pause to edit. I would just let a stream of consciousness flow from my mind to paper. Here are some benefits of journaling:
Writing one’s thoughts with honesty and no judgment allows for self-discovery. When you’re in a no-judgment zone, you’re able to be more honest with yourself with your needs and wants.
- Articulate your thoughts and feelings with others better
Some people just need time to process and reflect more than others. For me, I know that when my feelings are intense, I won’t see the truth in the moment but afterward when I’ve had a chance to mull things over. At that point, my feelings and thoughts are clearer and I can communicate my needs to others better.
- Reduce anxiety and stress
When I feel visceral emotions or stress, I journal to work through those feelings to decrease my anxiety levels. If I don’t, I’ll just keep ruminating (which I do A LOT), which isn’t healthy at all. Getting my worries out of my system gives them less power.
- Process trauma and work towards healing
Sometimes when I journal, I end up writing poetry to wrap my head around an experience that caused me pain. Through the process of journaling, I’m able to gain a clearer understanding of the causes of the hurt I felt, the emotions that came up, and the behaviors and patterns I’ve fallen into as a result of that pain.
- See your growth
One of the things I love about journaling is that my journals become time capsules. I revisit past journals from time to time and see my evolution. I can see where I’ve changed and the through lines too. It’s truly one of the great ways to gain self-knowledge.
Barriers to starting a journaling practice
When I restarted my journaling practice, I put pressure on myself to be perfect. I wanted to write with no grammar and say the “right things”. I wrote as if I had an audience. I realized that I was only limiting myself.
There is no right way to journal. That’s the beauty of the practice! You literally cannot screw it up. You just have to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)! What’s awesome is that you don’t even have to journal every day or write long prose to get the benefits. It can even be in bullet points, poetry lines, song lyrics, doodles, you name it!
When reflecting on my own experience and doing research for this post, these were some of the barriers people had when it came to starting a journaling practice. Luckily, there is a response to each concern!
- Where do I even begin? Honestly, something is better than nothing! It’s as simple as jotting a few things about your daily experience down on paper. You can start small with a gratitude journal, and just write three bullets of what you’re grateful for that day.
- What to write about? I hear you. You muster the motivation to put pen to paper but you’re unsure what to write about. What helped me last year was journal prompts! Sometimes, being guided by a prompt is useful. Here are some resources:
- I hate writing! I see you, auditory folks! But don’t fret because there is also audio journaling! I’ve done this when I want to do a journal session and am honestly too lazy to write (writers be lazy about writing too!). I just record myself and talk as if I’m talking to a friend. You can use a voice note app or an audio journaling app and get your thoughts out.
- I don’t have the time! I get it. Life can get busy. The sweet thing about journaling is that you don’t have to do it every day (although the more you do it, the better the benefits). Just 10 minutes a couple of times a week is a good start. With the average daily social media usage of internet users worldwide amounting to 145 minutes, I’m sure stealing a few minutes from social media time won’t hurt. We can find time (telling this to myself as much as I am telling you this).
How can you approach journaling?
Now that we got those barriers out of the way, here are some of the ways that you can approach journaling:
Scheduling journaling time: You can schedule a time to journal every day. It could be morning, evening, or night. I like to write in my gratitude journal before I go to sleep to reflect on the good things in my day. Sometimes, when I get in a journaling groove, I carve out 10 minutes in the morning when I’m having breakfast and coffee to get my journaling in.
Nightly brain dump: Rumination is not a sleep aid, my friends. When I had bouts of insomnia due to anxiety last year, my sleep doctor told me to do a brain dump every night. That would entail journaling all of my thoughts and worries that were on my mind before going to bed. That way, I’d get all my thoughts and worries out of my system to fall asleep.
Journaling clubs: I joined one at the beginning of last year and would get texts with journaling prompts every few days (disclosure: I did pay every month to be a part of the club but I’m sure there are free ones out there.) It was cool to be a part of a community of folks who were also going on this journey of healing and self-discovery through journaling. If there are none out there that suits you, you can even start one with your friends!
Buying guided journals: I mentioned guided journals earlier and they are great for beginners. The prompts take the guesswork out of “what should I write about?”. I bought a self-care one for the holidays that I like that I’ve been trying out.
Journaling for emotional release: Nothing like a good ol’ vent session via journaling to name and allow feelings to move through you. When I’m upset about something at work or after an emotional conversation with a loved one, I take the time to journal to process all the feelings that come up for me. If I still feel too riled up after journaling, I add in some body movement to get some somatic healing going.
Doing a worry tree: Unsure exactly what has been bothering you? You can do a worry tree. Through a series of questions, you explore what’s exactly bothering you, acknowledge the worry, and then come up with an action plan to address it (you can find a visual example here). By answering the questions, you lessen the anxiety by figuring out you can let go, what’s possible to address, and what you need to do.
Gratitude journal: Giving thanks is not only for the holidays! Acknowledging what you’re grateful for every day can have benefits for your mental health. You can even start small by journaling three things (big or small) that you’re grateful for every day. I know it can be hard to have gratitude when you’re at a real low. However, I’ve found that focusing on small things I’m grateful for when I’m having a shitty time in my life can make some days feel a tiny bit less shitty.
Bullet journal: Created by Ryder Carroll, the Bullet Journal is a method to organize your thoughts and set intentions. Just like any journal, it can become whatever you want it to be, whether that is a fitness or fertility tracker, food log, diary, sketchbook, etc.
Through journaling, you’ll learn more about yourself, better manage your stress and anxiety, and be a better communicator. You get that non-judgmental friend with whom you can explore your inner world. If you feel like it doesn’t help though, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you’re able to.
All the best on your journaling journey!