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When you think back to your younger years, you may not recall any of your “dear diary” moments as particularly enlightening. However, as adults with long-term goals and aspirations for self-improvement, keeping a journal in an effective manner can have a strong impact on your life.
Adopting a journaling habit can help you meet your goals and improve your quality of life. Now, your journaling habit may look very different from your best friend’s, and you each may have extremely different outcomes, but the one thing that all journaling practices will have in common is that the outcomes will be positive.
Journaling is an effective practice for various reasons, and it can help you reach both short- and long-term goals. Most importantly, it can help you keep your mind clear by getting your thoughts out of your busy brain and onto a piece of paper.
Doing this can also help you notice some important ties between your behaviors and feelings, which could help you make some positive changes in your life.
And, people are definitely feeling the positive effects of keeping a journal. In 2018 alone, US consumers spent almost $210 million on journaling supplies (i.e., journals, notebooks, porous pens), an 18% increase in sales from the prior year.
In this article, we will look at the benefits that journaling can have on your life to inspire you to pick up a pen and start this beneficial habit.
9 Benefits of Journaling for Mental Health and Overall Well-being
There's a solid link between being happy and practicing mindfulness. When you’re being mindful, you’re only focusing on the present–and writing in a journal helps you be present by putting aside hardships from the past and preventing you from thinking about anxieties about the future.
There are so many documented benefits of practicing mindfulness, including helping improve your sleep, reducing stress, and allowing you to engage in an overall healthier lifestyle. And the more mindful you can be, the easier your everyday life will be as well.
Journaling brings your wandering mind back to being able to focus and actively engage with the present moment and your current thoughts–and this state of awareness in itself is practicing mindfulness. Journaling will help you learn to be alert and concentrate in the moment.
2. It Reduces Stress
We’ve talked a lot about how harmful stress can be to our overall well-being on DGH. Journaling works as a very effective tool to combat these negative effects, as it can help improve your stress management abilities, therefore decreasing the impact that stress may have on you.
What’s more, studies have found that expressive writing, such as journaling, helps enhance our mental health amid stressful situations by helping us process difficult experiences and create a more coherent narrative about the ordeals in our lives.
This suggests that writing about things that are causing stress in your life can help you manage life’s pressures in a more healthy way than if you were to ruminate on the issues.
Finally, writing about your feelings of anger, grief, and other difficult or stressful emotions helps reduce the intensity of these feelings. This will help you feel calmer and better equipped to handle anything that comes your way in the future.
3. Journaling Helps You Achieve Your Goals
We know the importance of writing your goals down on paper. Think of your journal as the blueprint for your life, where you can gain clarity on exactly what you want to accomplish and plan out what you need to do to get there.
Journaling often involves thinking about your dreams and visions for the future, and even though the thought of writing some words down can seem like a stretch when it comes to helping you ultimately achieve your goals–think about how likely you are to achieve anything if you don’t write it down and commit to it.
Writing your goals down in your journal sends a signal to your brain that says: this is important to me. From there, your reticular activating system takes note of any future relevant opportunities or tools you could use to achieve your goals.
And the more detailed you are when you write down your goals, the more likely you are to realize them because your brain will be set on the right path to achieving them.
Writing everything down helps you organize your goals, prioritize what needs to be done, and helps you keep better track of your progress as you go. Gratitude journaling is a good place to start when you have goals. Show gratitude and appreciation for what you have in your life, be honest with yourself, and then write about the big picture and what you dream of achieving.
4. Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
Your emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to your ability to identify, understand, and deal with your own emotions while also recognizing, comprehending, and influencing the emotions of other people. Because journaling is an outlet for processing emotions, this is the perfect practice to help you develop your EQ.
Having a high EQ means a lot of things, one of which is that you’re always aware of yourself and your surroundings, and you’re able to impact other people in a positive way. Because journaling helps you do a lot of self-reflection and exploration of your own emotions, you will learn to be able to identify them more easily and know how to properly deal with them in the future.
Furthermore, by having a strong sense of familiarity with your own emotions, you will be able to have empathy for others when you see they are dealing with something off-track. Journaling develops this important life skill by increasing your self-awareness and overall well-being.
It also increases your ability to get on the same page as someone else, which is a strong sign of emotional intelligence that opens you up to having a much deeper connection with that person.
5. It Can Reduce Symptoms of Depression
The benefits of journaling for mental health are widespread. If you’re battling depression, for example, writing in a daily journal can help alleviate some of your symptoms.
In fact, in a study of 40 people suffering from major depressive disorder, researchers found significant decreases in depression scores in those who wrote in a journal for 20 minutes every day for a month than those who didn’t.
The participants were asked to write about their thoughts and feelings around a current event in their life that was evoking negative emotions, and at the end of the study, the researchers measured that event’s impact on their life after journaling about it.
Yet another study looked at the impact that journaling had on women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
The study measured the women’s feelings and level of depression over the course of 12 weeks and found that those who wrote more (both in quantity and in frequency) had significantly lower levels of depression than those who did not use journaling as an outlet for their feelings.
6. It Can Help Improve Your Memory
Forgetfulness is both frustrating and time-consuming. However, because journaling helps reduce unwanted disruptions to your thoughts, it also helps improve your working memory capacity. In fact, research has shown that journaling for seven weeks can reduce your mind’s tendency to wander and block out intrusive thoughts that impair your memory.
When participants were able to write in their journals about their anxious thoughts and feelings, they could also open up some capacity in their brains to remember things that they learned on the spot.
Moreover, because writing is a fundamentally organized system, keeping a journal will help organize events in your mind so you can make better sense of them. When this happens, your working memory improves because your brain is released from the taxing responsibility of processing an experience.
7. Journaling Can Help Improve Your Sleep
There are a lot of things that you can use to help improve your sleep, and journaling is definitely one of them. One study looked at the impact of journaling on college students who had persistent sleep problems related to excessive thoughts and worries at night.
They found that journaling for even just 15 minutes before bed improved the participants’ overall sleep quality and helped reduce their worrying thoughts during the day.
By getting your thoughts out of your brain and onto paper, you can release them from your mind and focus on sleeping instead of your laundry list of things you have going on in your life.
8. Increases Productivity
With so many distractions and ways to procrastinate, it can be hard to keep up with your work. However, even if you write in a journal that is solely for your own use, research shows it can encourage you to look back on your work and your work ethic and help inspire new ideas to keep you on track.
In our economy, being productive doesn’t mean producing the most work in the shortest amount of time as it has in the past. Rather, it’s about how fast you can pick up on new concepts and your ability to think creatively and critically.
Now, you consume a lot of information every day–how much of it do you think you remember?
(Hint: not much)
The key to learning things these days is to not passively consume information but rather actively engage in it in some way, such as writing in a journal.
So, just like any habit that improves your ability to learn and think creatively, journaling is definitely worth investing some time in.
9. Journaling Can Improve Your Physical Health
While there is a ton of research that backs up the benefits of journaling on your mental health, there is also evidence that supports the belief that it can positively impact your physical health as well.
Research from the University of Texas makes a strong argument that regularly journaling can help strengthen immune cells (AKA T-lymphocytes), reduce blood pressure, improve liver function, and decrease rheumatoid arthritis and asthma symptoms. Finally, studies have also shown that keeping a journal can help your wounds heal faster!
The researchers argue that the process of writing about one’s stress acts as a stress management technique that helps people come to terms with whatever is going on in their life. In turn, this reduces stress's impact on their physical health.
Speaking of your physical health, journaling can also help improve the health of your brain. Research supports that the act of writing requires the left part of your brain to get to work, which is the side that deals with logic. While your left brain is busy writing, your right brain can be creative and dig deep into your feelings.
Allowing your creativity to run wild can be very therapeutic and positively impact your everyday well-being. It can also help you overcome mental blocks while helping you exercise all of your brainpower.
How Do I Start Journaling?
Now that you know the benefits of journaling, you probably are ready to get started. However, you may not know where to begin.
Make Journaling a Habit
According to UW Health psychologist Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, it’s important to write more than simply the events that happened that day to get the most out of your journaling habit.
Try starting your journaling practice by writing for four days in a row–but only for a short period of time for each session.
After the first four days, write as often as you can. Making enough time to write each day can help you keep track of your emotions, their subtle changes over time, and the possible causes of those changes or developments.
Find a Quiet Place
Find somewhere that you will have some peace and quiet and write about something that has been on your mind lately, whether it's something that’s bothering you or it’s something that you want to work toward in the future–or even something really personal that you aren’t sharing with other people.
Or, maybe you have a past trauma that you have not yet come to terms with that you feel like you need to reflect upon.
Explore Journaling Prompts
A writing prompt is a good way to really get to know yourself. It also offers you a good starting place when you are unsure of what to write about. A few journaling prompts you can use may include writing about your favorite memories from your childhood, describing something you have been doing, or describing yourself and your personality.
What Does Journaling Do to the Brain?
The mental health benefits of journaling are vast and far-reaching. Through the studies we have described above, we have already seen how journaling can reduce stress, help dispel negative emotion and intrusive thoughts, and helps relieve mental distress.
Journaling helps clear your mind and allows you to track your moods and possibly destructive behaviors. Journaling help both your physical well-being and health because it provides insight into the patterns and triggers you have, which helps you address the root cause of your issues.
In addition to clearing your mind, you are also calming the mind. This allows more room for positive thoughts, pushing negative emotions and thoughts away.
Journaling is an act of expressive writing. Studies have shown that journaling improves cognitive functions and improves anxiety. The association of written words helps people make a traumatic experience less intense.
Journaling vs Meditation
Mindfulness meditation has also been found to have many of the same physical and mental health benefits that journaling does. So, how do they really compare?
Meditation, while an effective solution, isn't as effective as expressive journaling – at least when it comes down to the researched scientific benefits and how people who suffer from elevated anxiety symptoms and depressive disorders find a way to move forward.
Journaling has been found to have a stronger foundation, especially when there is a balance that can be found between mindfulness meditation and journaling for addressing mental health concerns.
Journal therapy allows one to express and work through stressful experiences, uncover one's deepest thoughts, and can be used as a psychiatric treatment for mental illness. When incorporated into one's daily routine, journal writing is therapeutic.
In summary, here are the journaling benefits one may expect physically and mentally in addition to everything we have already covered in detail above:
While you’re writing, pay close attention to your emotions and anything else that may come to mind, such as current relationships, past experiences, or who you want to be in the future.
Finally, remember that your journal is only for yourself.
No one else has to read it, so you don’t need to hold back from writing about anything. Your journal doesn't have to be in line with any particular structure, and don’t worry about grammar or punctuation–this writing is only for you, so be open and honest.
Here are some great resources you can use for your journaling practice:
Maintaining a journal can help add a bit more order to your chaotic world. You can get to know yourself better by exploring your most personal thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Try to view your journaling time as your personal time to relax, let out some stress, and calm down. Find a relaxing place to write and recognize that you’re benefiting your mind and body through your journaling practice.
You can journal your way into a new chapter of your life by reminding yourself that you’re the author of your life’s story.
Finally, if you don’t know the “right” way to journal, then check out this seven-step process for building a journaling habit that sticks.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.