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Journaling for Health

Taking a break from emails, texts, tweets, and Facebook to write to ourselves.

One effective way to promote emotional well being is to express what’s going on in our interior lives. Such expression helps with day-to-day frustrations as well as more emotionally intense periods in our lives. The fundamental therapeutic value of self-expression shows itself when we socialize with friends or talk to a psychotherapist or get together with family – and when we express to ourselves in a journal. Indeed, journaling is one of the most direct and helpful activities for maintaining our mental health.

We cannot go to therapy all hours of the day, any day of the week – we don’t have the time or the resources. Friends are helpful, but friends want to discuss a variety of topics in addition to what’s troubling us. Writing in a journal, on the other hand, is always available to us.

Journaling can help us emotionally by managing anxiety, reducing stress, coping with loss, and accommodating uncertainty. It can help us cognitively by encouraging us to analyze our daily lives, describing our concerns and fears and identifying what’s limiting or even sabotaging our goals.

How to Keep a Journal

We don’t need to journal every day, but we should write regularly. One beginning guideline is to write three entries a week To begin, we need to find a period in our day that feels right for reflective thought – in the morning, just after work, later in the evening – it doesn’t matter. It’s important to fit journaling into our own rhythms and tendencies. We can then look forward to journaling time.

Journals entries don’t need to follow a particular structure. It’s our own private place to discuss whatever we want. Let the words flow freely and don’t worry about what others might think.

Moving Toward Emotional Well-Being

Writing in a journal takes time. It is a way of respecting and more fully appreciating our concerns. Through writing, we can turn the seemingly senseless into the meaningful. We can’t change the physical events of the world, but we can write descriptions of these events that give us more agency and more sense.

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Journaling can become a healthy habit along with other healthy habits – eating a nutritional diet, exercising regularly, socializing, getting enough sleep. In fact, a journal can keep our attention on these other necessary habits.

Externalizing Our Selves

Importantly, writing externalizes our thoughts and emotions. We gain control of our words – and therefore our meanings. We get to know ourselves by revealing our most private fears, thoughts, and feelings. Ultimately, we are able to stand apart from our own writing and study it as an artifact for self-revelation.

Learning What Causes Our Stress and Anxiety

Journaling allows us to document and keep records of our feelings. In this way, we can identify aspects of our social and physical environment that cause stress or anxiety. Tracking events and emotional responses allows us to recognize emotional triggers and learn effective ways to prepare for them. Writing a journal also allows us to identify negative thoughts and behaviors, while also providing an opportunity for positive self-talk.

Reviewing Our Journal for Patterns

Source: flickr

Every so often we should read and re-read our journal. By doing so, we can detect patterns in our emotional lives. Most of us can see the importance of individual events, even as we miss the overall patterns of these events. These arcs of behavior and emotion are often hidden from us because our lives focus on solving immediate problems and then moving on to the next set of challenges. Keeping a journal and reviewing the individual entries makes hidden patterns visible. While reviewing our journal, we see individual entries coalesce into larger themes, revealing larger themes in our emotional and interpersonal lives.

We can also detect if we are obsessing or repeating ourselves or writing in unproductive circles. We may then want to move away from these repetitive thinking patterns. Venting can be useful for a time, but eventually, for writing to be therapeutic, it needs to express and to find meaning.

Feeling Free

Writing a journal is not selfish or a waste of time. It is a good unto itself. But also – practically speaking – ideas that come out in a journal can often be applied in social settings and at work.

Reading Published Journals

Other people’s journals can serve as examples and also as sources of insight. Two especially insightful journals are Journal of a Solitude and The House by the Sea, both authored by May Sarton. I recently enjoyed a wise, eccentric 100-year-old journal entitled Journal of a Disappointed Man.

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Writing a journal provides a trustworthy and sympathetic audience that is always available to us. Through writing in our journal, we talk to ourselves. Through reading what we’ve written, we listen and we learn.

More from Robert N. Kraft Ph.D.
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