Try Journaling for Better Mental Health

Journaling for Better Mental Health,

When you need a safe place for expression, journaling is a wonderful outlet. Maybe you need a place to stop triggers and understand why they’re happening. Or you want an overview of your goals so you can stay on target. Or maybe you just want to unburden yourself of certain thoughts and emotions. Here’s why experts often recommend journaling for better mental health.

Why Writing It Out Helps You

Journaling is a versatile and accessible tool that supports wellness by promoting self-awareness, emotional regulation, and personal growth. Some research suggests that the physical act of handwriting—which uses both spatial and tactile skills—helps you release emotions through free association and enhances memory and your ability to process what you’ve jotted down. This doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from typing in an online journal, only that more research centers on the benefits of putting pen to paper.  

The University of Rochester Medical Center outlines some other key benefits of journaling, including but not limited to: 

  • Authentic expression, as you use this safe and private space to process thoughts and feelings that might be difficult to share with others. This allows for emotional release and relief.
  • A method to reduce stress, as many people find the act of writing calming and meditative. Journaling also serves as a healthy outlet for releasing pent-up emotions and processing traumatic or stressful experiences.
  • Coping with depression, because you can prioritize problems, fears, and concerns, and also reframe negative thoughts and behaviors. 
  • A trigger “tracker”, which gives you a means by which to identify daily symptoms and recognize triggers so you can control them more effectively.  

Healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente offers a few more reasons you might enjoy journaling, such as:

  • Creating a stronger connection between focused thought and deliberate action.
  • Improving your writing and communication skills to make conversations with others more productive.
  • Reinforcing gratitude by regularly highlighting the joys in your life.
  • Mapping out goals and plans to maintain accountability or stay connected to your progress.
  • Tracking growth, especially if you like to review what you’ve overcome and how.

Differences Between Journaling and Keeping a Diary

Each process is a little similar, but also different. For example, you might use a diary to track your progress on a certain goal, using this visual account to provide clear objectives and results. It’s especially helpful for data collection. However, a journal might be an opportunity to explore more of how you feel about these goals and what greater meaning they have, especially concerning other aspects of life. 

But there aren’t really any rules here. You can use just one approach or both. But if you’re curious about more research supporting journaling, here are some interesting points:  

  • Some preliminary studies involving women recovering from substance use disorder “showed greater reductions in post-traumatic symptom severity, depression, and anxiety” when they used expressive writing. 
  • Additionally, researchers even suggest forms of doodling in your journal often provide more insight about how your brain functions. 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), certain studies also indicate that “writing about emotions and stress can boost immune functioning in patients with such illnesses as HIV/AIDS, asthma and arthritis.” However, in the same APA article, psychology researcher Susan Lutgendorf of the University of Iowa cautions that for people processing trauma, writing it out might not be enough—or be too triggering without therapeutic direction. “You need focused thought as well as emotions…an individual needs to find meaning in a traumatic memory as well as to feel the related emotions to reap positive benefits from the writing exercise.”

How to Make Journaling Work for You

Remember, journaling is valuable however you approach it, so don’t get too bogged down by the details. Here are some tips that might help: 

  • Make your journal easy to access. Whether you use a small notebook or prefer an online journal, keep it handy so you can write out what’s important to you.
  • Start small. Create stepping stones for yourself to build this habit: highlight three things you’re grateful for each day, something you observed or experienced that added to your happiness, or a conversation you enjoyed. 
  • Write every day. It doesn’t matter when you write as long as you dedicate a few minutes each day to do it. Some people might prefer Julia Cameron’s approach of a stream-of-consciousness morning pages exercise, while others take stock of what they experienced at the end of the day. 
  • Use prompts if you like. Not sure how to get started? Journey has more than 500 ideas
  • Write, draw, doodle—whatever feels right. Embrace the freedom to express yourself in whatever way you like at the moment. 
  • What you do with a completed journal is your choice. You can share it in therapy, review it, shred it, or set it on fire on the compost pile—again, there are no rules.  

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