If ever there was a time when challenges abound, it would be in this current era where people everywhere are grappling with the effects of COVID-19 on their health and wellbeing, social welfare, and economic status. And that’s in addition to all the normal everyday struggles.
Wherever we turn, we are being encouraged to boost our immune systems; and in light of the ever-increasing challenges, we would do well to improve our coping mechanisms as well. That’s where journaling comes in.
The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Health Encyclopedia defines journaling as “simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly.” (University of Rochester Medical Center, 2020). You might think of journaling as the grown-up version of keeping a diary, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is child’s play. There are very real and tangible benefits of journaling.
URMC goes on to describe a journal as a useful tool in managing one’s mental health. Keeping a journal helps you manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression, and the very act of journaling itself can help you control your symptoms and moods. By journaling you are better able to prioritize problems, fears and concerns, track symptoms to recognize and manage triggers, and open the door to positive self-talk.
Beyond the benefits to mental health, scientific research has revealed additional benefits of journaling (Nguyen, 2015) such as:
It’s no wonder the list of those who practice journal writing includes famous and successful people such as singer Taylor Swift, tennis star Venus Williams, Nobel Prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway, artist Pablo Picasso, inventor Thomas Edison, and US President Ronald Reagan, among some of the greats.
But journaling isn’t just for a select few. A New York Times article referred to journaling as “one of the more effective acts of self-care”, which is “also, happily, one of the cheapest” (Phelan, 2018). Journaling is therefore accessible to many who will do well to receive its wide-ranging benefits.
The first thing to keep in mind is that journaling is just for you. While it can be helpful to share your thoughts and what you’ve uncovered in your journaling time with a coach, mentor or health care provider, it’s important to be free from any judgement. If you think you’re writing for someone else’s eyes, you’ll likely overthink it or censor your writing. Write just for you.
Also know that there’s no wrong way to journal. Bullet points, long flowing paragraphs, poems, you name it, these are all forms of journaling. You don’t have to fix your grammar, spell check or edit for word count. Just write freely.
While some people may write whenever they’re in the mood, journaling is more effective when done regularly. The more you write, the more you process and the more you become comfortable with the process of journaling your thoughts if it’s not something you’re used to. So, write regularly and seek to make it a habit.
Don’t overthink it. Writing for 20 minutes at a time is a good goal, but if that sounds too long for you, start with 10 minutes. How long you write is not as important as what you write. Write freely for as long as you’re comfortable.
Here’s one more tip on journaling. If you’re attempting to journal to heal from, cope with or adjust to a traumatic event, seek the assistance of a mental health professional. When in doubt, ask a question. And if you’re not sure where to get help ask your primary care physician, pastor or spiritual director.
Now you might be wondering what exactly you should write about in your journal. Once again, this is not a matter of right or wrong, but here are a few ideas to get you started.
Write about your day – this is often an easy place to start. As you recall the events in your day, you may also wish to write about how you felt about what happened.
Write about your worries – what are the things that are keeping you up at night? Write about those things. You may find that just writing them down helps you to gain another perspective or to put your finger on what’s really bothering you.
Write about your past – this is especially helpful for processing difficult experiences. If you’ve been through a particularly traumatic experience, consider going through this process with the support of a mental health professional.
Write about your goals – journaling about your goals is a great way to start envisioning what’s possible. As you write about your dreams and goals and begin to think through how you will get there you can start making steps towards achieving them.
Some people choose to have a journal where they write everything that comes to their minds but there are those who journal for very specific purposes. Since this article is about improving your health through journaling, let’s look at a few types of journals that might work for you based on your individual goals. Feel free to try any of these ideas by themselves or combine the ones you like to create your ideal journal.
Exercise/health journal – keep track of your physical activity such as your exercise routine. What have you noticed that’s working (or not)? How do you see your overall health improving?
Food journal – use this journal to keep track of what you eat each day. From there you could count calories, check how balanced your meals are, or even share your thoughts about what you ate and why, helping yourself journal your way to better choices.
Classic journal – this is a journal where you reflect on your day’s events and write whatever comes to mind. It’s a helpful way to take note of your feelings and help you start to process what’s going on in your head and heart.
Devotional journal – write about what you’re learning about God and what He’s teaching you. Here you can explore various passages of Scripture or share your reflections from sermons.
Prayer journal – this is a fantastic way to document your prayers and circle back to them as you see them getting answered.
Vision journal – similar to a vision board this is another way of setting out your goals. Feel free to get creative with this one by including words, pictures, drawings, etc.
Gratitude journal – share the things you’re grateful for, big and small. No matter how ‘bad’ your day might be, this trains your mind to look for the ‘good’ and is the ideal journal to write in every day.
Now that we’ve covered some journaling basics and shared a few ideas to get you started, what type of journal will you choose? Whichever one you pick, every word you write will move you closer to your goal of better health and help you become more resilient in facing life’s challenges. Just keep writing.
Nguyen, T. (2015, February 13). 10 Surprising Benefits You’ll Get From Keeping a Journal. Retrieved from Huff Post: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/benefits-of-journaling-_b_6648884
Phelan, H. (2018, 10 25). What’s All This About Journaling? Retrieved from New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/style/journaling-benefits.html
University of Rochester Medical Center. (2020, September 5). Health Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1
Marva Titley-Smith, Strategic Planner & Certified Life Coach
Marva is a work and life strategist with a passion for helping women thrive in all areas of life. She’s the BVI’s first local female architect and former Chief Planner. In 2012, after 26 years in the Public Service, she successfully transitioned careers and founded the management consultancy firm MatrixSpark specializing in strategic management, training and coaching. Seven years later she became certified as a life breakthrough coach to address the growing work-life balance struggles facing women. She continues to welcome reinvention and is always on the lookout for what God is doing next.
You can find her writing about work-life balance and intentional living on her website www.MarvaSmith.com.