6 Science-Based Reasons to Start Journaling Now
Learn to crush stress, become more self-aware, and improve Creativity.
by Kelly Simmerman
Being a writer, I have kept many journals throughout the years. When I was sixteen and wanted to be just like Stevie Nicks, I kept a songwriting journal. I’ve kept dream journals where I would jot down my nighttime dreams and poetry journals.
When I first started journaling, I only wrote about cheerful things. I thought if anyone reads this, they’ll see how happy I am. I would sit and tap my pen, searching my mind for long, sophisticated sentences, as well. Onlookers might think — wow, she’s a brilliant writer. Neither strategy served me, and nobody has ever read my journals. So there’s that. They’re not that interesting to anyone else, so I told myself to drop all the pretenses and just free-write. Jot down whatever comes to mind. Don’t edit. Don’t judge. It took me a while. I had to put my editor in a timeout which helped.
“Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.” — Natalie Goldberg, Author and Speaker
Journaling involves the practice of keeping a journal that explores thoughts and feelings surrounding the events of your life. There are several ways to do this. Journaling, like stress management and self-exploration, works best when done consistently, but even occasional, sporadic journaling can be stress relieving. I like to focus on gratitude and emotional processing to reprogram the story surrounding an experience and the corresponding emotion.
Journaling is no longer old-fashioned, or just for people of a certain older-and-wiser age. Journaling does more than just help you record your memories or find self-expression. Turns out, It’s good for your physical and mental health, as well.
As the American Psychological Association says;
“Journaling can provide general wellness and self-improvement benefits, such as making you more self-aware, boosting creativity, and helping you build better habits. Journaling can help you better understand your feelings and emotions and help you manage stress. Writing about things that have frustrated or upset you can help you let go of some stress and gain perspective.”
6 Reasons to Journal Now
1 — Reduce Stress. Deal with “big” feelings in a safe environment. Journaling is a way of going on a retreat without leaving your home. It is a way to access and acknowledge experiences that may cause you pain. Journaling helps reintegrate those painful or confusing feelings into your life so they become a part of you. It helps bring order to your deepest thoughts and fears and enables you to learn from the person who knows you best: you.
2 — Keep Memory Sharp. Daily writing helps your brain stay active and engaged. This isn’t a passive activity like swimming or walking where you can let the mind wander aimlessly. When you’re writing, it occupies the brain with shaping thoughts, choosing words, and constructing sentences.
3 — Strengthen Emotional Functions. Ever feel worked up, depressed, or just plain bad without knowing exactly why? Many of us can wander under a cloud of vague, undefined gloom or anxiety for days — if not longer. It can make us feel like we’re living at the mercy of our emotions, instead of in control of them. In this fog, we often forget to ask some key questions that might bring relief, like “What are these emotions?” and “Why am I experiencing them?” By allowing yourself to feel taboo emotions like anger and identifying other emotions, you will gain insight into your feelings.
4 — Boost Mood. Journaling promotes and enhances your creativity, and that always gives a lift. Journaling propels you toward your goals, helping you bring your vision to life.
5 — Problem Solving. “If things are floating around in your head, when you actively put those things into words, it forces you to work through it and acknowledge conflict, which is the first step to resolving conflict,” says Dr. Kali Cyrus, a psychiatrist and former assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. Not just conflict, journaling allows your mind to come up with answers to certain issues and problems.
6 — Improve Cognitive Function. It took me a long time to figure out that happy people don’t always live happy lives. From time to time, we all have to deal with big emotional stuff — illness, grief, stress — and then the little daily annoyances — a traffic jam, or an irritating boss or coworker. Actively rewiring your emotions brings impactful change.
When you record your thoughts, you reinforce your thought patterns. Writing things down helps us to remember. Author and American psychiatrist and researcher of neuroplasticity, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. says;
“The mental act of focusing attention holds in place brain circuits associated with what is focused on.”
As I progressed in my own journaling, I started digging deeper and wrote more about my fears and anxieties, problems that needed solving. That’s when the magic happened. I would see solutions more clearly. I could feel my mind searching for those solutions that I might not have thought of before. I felt more gratitude for the little successes. I even felt love deeper than ever before.
“I believe in the strength and validity of every emotion and encourage introspection, self-realization, and engaging in the difficult-but-incredible work of knowing and understanding yourself.” — Meera Lee Patel
Meera Lee Patel is a best-selling author and artist of journaling books. Her books include writing prompts that get the juices flowing. Below are a few.
Journal writing prompts
Writing prompts help jog your imagination. Try some of these, especially if you are new to journaling.
What was the biggest challenge I faced today?
Did I feel anxious, frustrated, or angry today?
What does unconditional love look like for me?
Did I have a positive interaction with another person today?
Did I have a negative interaction with another person today?
Is there a decision I’m trying to make?
Was there something or someone that made me laugh today?
I’m really proud that I…
I really wish others knew this about me…
I am most worried about…
I am grateful for…
If my body could talk, it would say…
I am disappointed about…
I am happy about…
Journaling can make us more self-aware and help us detect sneaky, unhealthy patterns in our thoughts and behaviors. It allows us to take more control over our lives and helps put things in perspective. Further, it can shift us from a negative mindset to a more positive one, especially about ourselves.
And remember, if you find yourself not keeping a regular schedule with journaling, it’s a habit, and you can resume at any time. You don’t have to journal every day in order for it to work, either — a few times a week is still highly beneficial, and even journaling on an as-needed basis brings benefits.
Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5(4):e11290. doi:10.2196/11290
Baikie KA, Wilhelm K. Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 2005;11(5):338–346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338
Cognitive Journaling: A Systematic Method to Overcome Negative Beliefs by Richard Ragnarson, MD, Psychiatrist
The Writing Prompts Journal: 365 Prompts for 365 Days by Bryan Cohen