Journaling is a technique frequently used by people in therapy or those who are interested in improving various aspects of their mental or physical health. Some people avoid journaling because they think it’s the equivalent of the “dear diary” thing they did when they were children, but do not be mistaken. Actually, journaling is a highly effective technique with multiple potential health benefits.
What exactly is journaling? This is the practice of simply joining pen to paper or, as is often the case in this day and age, fingers to the smartphone, and jotting down thoughts, feelings or action items as a means to achieve a greater goal. The word journal stems from the old French word jurnal, and the earliest known journals date back to the 10th century in Asia. Journaling for the sake of therapeutic benefit gained popularity in the 1970s when researched and utilized in the work of psychologist Dr. Ira Progoff.
The benefits of journaling are seemingly endless. However, how journaling can benefit you specifically is entirely unique to you and your own personal goals and situation. Some examples of these benefits are:
- Documentation so that you can remember something important later on – in fact, many of my patients find great benefit from rereading their old journals several months into treatment in order to remember how they were feeling or to remind themselves of the types of thoughts that they were having before they felt better. Many are shocked to read how differently they sounded at that point and can utilize this information to recognize how much progress has truly been made in therapy.
- Keeping track of essentials, like your moods – Can be helpful in tracking, such as when my young female patients want to see if there is a cyclical pattern to their moods around their menstrual cycles or if a bipolar patient wants to see if there is a seasonal pattern to his moods. A person who has cravings to smoke cigarettes can keep track of exactly when he had cravings so that we can construct a plan on how to cut back. With this information, we can more accurately gear our treatment plan.
- Staying organized – which can be helpful in many cases but especially for those with attentional difficulties or memory-recall issues. I should mention that attentional and organizational issues happen to many of us, even those who have depression. Staying organized is also a form of self-care, which is essential to wellbeing and progress in therapy.
- Putting words to your thoughts – Every had a time that you had multiple mixed feelings, but you couldn’t quite identify them? Have those emotions overwhelmed you? Writing down your emotional experience in words helps you to identify exactly what you are feeling at a particular moment. And once the emotions are expressed through words, they will have less power over you.
- Getting those emotions out – Most of us know that holding on to negative emotions can be extraordinarily detrimental. Journaling can be cathartic, an emotional release which can be far more therapeutic than keeping those feelings bottled up inside.
- Helping you process an experience – whether an experience is positive, negative or simply confusing, sometimes writing about it can help us wrap our heads around why it impacted us so deeply and to understand how we truly feel about what may have happened. For example, if you had a difficult interaction at work and aren’t sure what to make of it, journaling can help you work through that experience and understand how you felt about it. There is evidence that journaling also helps breast-cancer survivors process their experiences.
- Increasing positivity – Journaling is an opportunity to shift to a more optimistic outlook and cultivate more positivity. One method of doing this is through starting a gratitude log, such as writing down a few things each day for which you are grateful.
However, journaling does not just have subjective benefits. It is evidence-based to be a significant tool for improvement in various circumstances. For example, it has been demonstrated to have therapeutic impacts for depression, anxiety and reduction of stress. It has also been shown to facilitate in recovery from substance use disorder, reduce recidivism in substance-dependence inmates, aid in recovery from gambling and help in coping with grief and loss.
Journaling can equally benefit people from all areas of life, through a wide range of struggles and irrespective of gender or age. Since journaling is inexpensive and can be done through many techniques and languages, it is a therapeutic experience from which most people could benefit. When done in conjunction with therapy, it is an especially powerful tool that can propel someone into wellness.
Now that we’ve covered how journaling can be helpful, stay tuned for the next post in which I will discuss effective approaches to journaling in your everyday life!
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DISCLAIMER: All information and content in this post are for informational purposes only. The author does not provide any medical advice on the site, and the information should not be so construed or used. Nothing contained in the site is intended to create a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a licensed, trained physician or health professional or to be a substitute for medical advice of a physician or trained health professional licensed in your state. The information expressed here are the views of Dr. Iyer only and are not the opinions of any hospitals or academic facilities with which Dr. Iyer has an affiliation. You should consult a physician licensed in your state in all matters relating to your health.