Journaling is one of my favourite practices to offload and create space in the mind. I’ve had a diary since being 14 and I’m sure if you read my first one it would make for some pretty interesting reading.
As I’ve gotten older how I use journaling has evolved. From supporting me in offloading my emotions, to better understanding them and planning my goals. It’s also a favourite practice I recommend when working with my clients around their emotional journey and goal-setting.
If you’ve not tried journaling before there are lots of different ways you can do it and heaps of benefits.
Benefits of Journaling
- It free’s up the brain to use resources elsewhere – A study conducted by Michigan State University “showed that the act of expressive writing can clear your mind’s worries and free up resources in your brain that could be put to use on other tasks.”
- Makes it easier for the brain to process past events and thus reduces the intensity of the trauma – Another study by UCLA, conducted by measuring the brain’s activity, discovered that journaling about an event can make it ‘less traumatic and intense.‘ Labelling our emotions supports us in the processing of them (we talk about this in the key to long-term happiness blog)
- It can support depression symptoms and disorders – “people diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder reported significantly lower depression scores after three days of expressive writing, 20 minutes per day” (Krpan, Kross, Berman, Deldin, Askren, & Jonides, 2013)
- It helps to reduce anxiety symptoms in women – “reduces physical symptoms, health problems, and anxiety in women” (LaClaire, 2008)
These are just a few of the many studies showing the amazing impact journaling can have. Putting pen to paper not only calms the nervous system but it can help to organise your thoughts and plan your goals.
Six journaling practices for beginners.
- Summary of your day/week and your emotions
This is how I started on my journaling journey. It involves summarising your day/week, what’s happened and what emotions were brought up. There doesn’t need to be any structure to it but it’s important as you start to write about what has happened you also recognise how it made you feel. Connecting with deeper emotions allows you to reduce the stress and anxiety around an event (name it to tame it) and will begin to flag patterns around behaviours and triggers.
Awareness is the first step toward creating long-term, meaningful change.
For me, this is the most intriguing form of journaling as it connects with thoughts and feelings in your soul that you won’t even know are there! Freewriting connects to the wisdom deep within you and can lead to some profound realisations when reading them back.
You can start freewriting by putting pen to paper and seeing what comes up or you can pose yourself a question, statement or theme. I like to set a time limit on freewriting e.g. 10 minutes to see what comes up… but there are no rules here, do what feels right for you.
Below is an example of what came up for me when given the statement, ‘this is your heart and this is my message to you….’
- Questioning or ‘journal prompts’
Using questions or journal prompts to guide your thoughts can direct your focus and outcome. It might look like this:
- What am I feeling today?
- What did that situation trigger within me?
- How do I want to feel?
- How do I want to show up?
Asking yourself challenging and inquisitive questions helps to delve into the why, and provides awareness and clarity around specific scenarios.
- Regression analysis to move forward
Something I’ve been working on a lot recently is how my past experiences are stored in my memory and how they show up for me now. Our whole belief systems and behaviours are shaped around our past experiences.
Sometimes these experiences weren’t ideal or may even be traumatic. These are experiences we all have and deal with in very different ways.
By revisiting our experiences, working through the emotions and even reframing them we can build new thought patterns that better support us now.
If you’ve never journaled around regression before I’d recommend doing this with the support of a dedicated app e.g. To Be Magnetic, or even a therapist, depending on the depth of support you need.
- Goal setting, ambitions and manifestations
This is my new favourite way to journal. I have spent a lot of time looking at my emotions, triggers and blockers and working through them. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always work to do BUT if you do the work, it really sets you up for goal-getting!
Writing down your goals, ambitions and manifestations sets the groundwork for achieving them. You can write it down as a loose dream or really get specific with actions and how you’re going to achieve them.
Last but by no means least, gratitude! Looking back at the past can help you heal. Looking forward toward your goals gets you focused but building a gratitude attitude really gets you grounded.
Listing out what you are grateful for you can see the abundance of what you already have.
When I’m feeling a little lost or frustrated I’ll often take 10 minutes at the end of the day to list out all the things in my life that I’m thankful for. It can be anything from a gorgeous cup of proper coffee I’ve had in the morning to appreciating my family and their health. Whatever you are grateful for, list it out and reflect on where you are now.
When should I journal?
Personally, the only time that works for me is bedtime. I don’t journal every night, it can range from 2-3 times per week. I keep my journal and pen on the bedside table so it’s easy to access and when I know I want to journal I head off to bed a little earlier than usual.
But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is your journaling journey so it’s whatever works for you! If that’s first thing in the morning before the day arrives, go for it. If it’s when you’re feeling your lowest or having an anxiety attack, grab the pen and paper. It’s such a personal process it has to work for you.
Good luck on your journaling journey!
- Journaling can support mental health issues such as anxiety and depression according to some studies
- There are lots of different ways to journal but some of our favourite are; summarising your day and emotions, freewriting, journal prompts, regression analysis, goal setting and gratitude
- There’s no right way or time to journal, so grab a pen and go for it!