How can journaling improve our mental health?

It is a proven scientific fact that the practice of keeping a journal is highly beneficial for your mental health. With the rise in popularity of “gratitude journals” and other such notebooks which promote written emotional expression, how can we turn journaling into such a cathartic experience?

The term ‘journaling’ may feel somewhat childish, even twee, often associated with angsty teenage girls scribbling furiously about their daily dramas. On the contrary, many people are recognising the value of picking up a pen and a notebook and writing out their thoughts and feelings. Many popular journals, such as The Five Minute Journal, offer a structured guide to journaling, with accompanying inspirational quotes and prompts centred around goal setting and gratitude.

However, any form of purposeful writing where you regularly record your mood, thoughts and emotions on paper could have similar benefits. There are many different methods you can follow; it is a matter of taking the time to experiment and assess what works best for you.

This practice is especially useful for people who suffer with their mental health. It can help with stress, anxiety, PTSD, memory and repression or avoidance, among many other things. Keeping and updating a detailed journal can help you to identify harmful patterns in your behaviour and thought processes, as well as increasing self-awareness. There is even evidence to suggest that writing in a journal may also be as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for reducing symptoms of depression in high-risk adolescents (Stice, Burton, Bearman, & Rohde, 2006).

By writing out the things on your mind, you help to rationalise and organise them, as well as otherwise releasing them from your subconscious. It may not cure you of a disorder, but it can reduce the impact it has on your mood and habits.

The website Centre for Journal Therapy have some great suggestions for making the most out of journaling. They advise following this simple acronym:

W – What do you want to write about? What’s going on? How do you feel? What are you thinking about? What do you want? Name it.

R – Review or reflect on it. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Focus. You can start with “I feel…” or “I want…” or “I think…” or “Today….” or “Right now…” or “In this moment…”

I – Investigate your thoughts and feelings. Start writing and keep writing. Follow the pen/keyboard. If you get stuck or run out of juice, close your eyes and re-centre yourself. Re-read what you’ve already written and continue writing.

T – Time yourself. Write for 5-15 minutes. Write the start time and the projected end time at the top of the page. If you have an alarm/timer on your PDA or mobile phone, set it.

E – Exit smart by re-reading what you’ve written and reflecting on it in a sentence or two: “As I read this, I notice—” or “I’m aware of—” or “I feel—”. Note any action steps to take.

In summary….it’s easy to W.R.I.T.E. !
W hat topic?
R eview/reflect
I nvestigate
T ime yourself
E xit smart

There really is no downside to giving it a try!