By Rachel Welch
Do you struggle to fall asleep because of racing thoughts? Maybe you find it challenging to stay in the present moment due to thoughts pulling your focus. Perhaps you fill conversations with too much planning and not enough listening. If this applies to you, you may benefit from the joy of journaling.
Writing in a journal has been a favorite pastime for centuries. Famous historians kept journals and diaries, which made it possible for their insights to travel forward into our modern age. Among these, are Marco Polo, Leonardo da Vinci, Ludwig van Beethoven, Marie Curie, and Winston Churchill. Each of them has created journal or diary entries that we revere today as being pages of wisdom and inspiration (1)!
In addition to having the potential to carry your insights through generations, journaling can be highly beneficial to your mental health. There are almost 100 ways that journaling can positively impact our mental health. It can help us accurately identify emotions, manage stress, help us sleep better, and reduce symptoms of depression (2). Through the process of writing down our thoughts, we allow ourselves the freedom to lower cognitive demand. If we try to keep everything in our minds, we can feel overwhelmed, scattered, stressed, and fatigued, and journaling helps us to get out of our heads!
Journaling our Emotions
One way that journaling is beneficial is by helping us to accurately identify emotions. You may have heard quotes by famous authors that say, "to be a writer, just write!" Well, the same is true for healthy journaling. To reap the benefits of writing in a journal, all you have to do is write. This can be with pen and paper, or in a Google doc! The goal is to remove the thoughts from your head, onto the paper or screen, so that you can clear some mental space.
The joy of journaling is found in the process of writing. Writing can help us more clearly identify how we actually feel about something. When we allow thoughts to swirl madly in our minds, it is difficult to examine them individually. But when we take the time to journal our emotions, we write one at a time. Maybe in the form of a stream of consciousness, maybe in bullet points, or perhaps as a fictional story. However you choose to write about the emotional situation, it helps to calm down and clear out our otherwise frazzled minds.
When our minds have more space, we have less stress. This leads to better sleep, and ultimately, better health overall.
There are several different styles of journaling to choose from. First of all, there are thousands of options for journals themselves, whether hard copy or digital. To really feel the joy of journaling, you can buy a cute and colorful journal. Or, you can write in a Google Doc or the "notes" app on your phone. Journals can be whatever you want them to be, and there are different ways to use the journal of your choice.
The process of writing down things you are grateful for, or a "gratitude journal," is becoming more and more popular. With trends related to mindfulness, meditation, and spiritual health, the concept of a gratitude journal has become common. A gratitude journal contains things that you are thankful for. This can be in a narrative style, in a list, or through pictures. However you choose to write about gratitude, will reap the many science-backed benefits.
In a ten-week study with two groups of participants, one group wrote daily about things that displeased them, or daily irritations. The other group wrote daily about gratitude and things that they were thankful for. After the 10-week period, they discovered that the "gratitude group" not only reported greater happiness, but they also exercised more and had fewer visits to their doctors than the group which wrote about unpleasant things (3).
In addition to apparently boosting exercise motivation and physical health, the power of gratitude also reinforces generous behavior. We have learned that the more people choose to focus on gratitude, the more they choose to be kind, helpful, and "prosocial." Writing about gratitude can not only clear space in your mind, but can also create a beautiful domino effect that could potentially change the world for the better (4).
The "Bullet Journal Method" is one for the creative types. The "Bu-jo" method has gained popularity through Instagram, Pinterest, and other social networks. What used to just be planners and compact calendars has become the trendy "bullet journal (5)."
Bullet journals consist of to-do lists, diary entries, notes, and doodles. Bullet journals are usually visually appealing, and filled with colorful charts, designs, and graphs to help you accomplish your goals. This style of journaling is beneficial because it offers a multitude of organizational possibilities. Trying to drink more water? Draw a cute cup, and color in blue highlighter for every cup that you drink that day. Trying to exercise regularly? Doodle a calendar and draw a stick figure engaging in each workout you completed. Seeking a visual of your macro and micronutrients from the week? Draw yourself a precious pie chart and add stickers to represent the foods you ate! Want to identify the foods that trigger your migraines? Track the food you eat, when you eat it, and how you feel afterwards.
Bullet journals, or "bojo's" are the adorable, creative, and colorful way to organize your thoughts, emotions, goals, and plans (5).
Finally, there are the dump journals. These are the journals for the less organized, the casual, and the people who just need a place to immediately empty their minds. The purpose of a dump journal is to do just that--dump your thoughts into the journal's pages. Dump out the negative, the positive, the nonsensical, and the brilliant. In a dump journal, you can dump every thought freely and without inhibition.
A great way to use a dump journal is to list your anxieties, fears, and worries. Write out every thought that is causing you stress, and thereby remove it from your mind, onto the paper. By "dumping" your thoughts out, you are rapidly clearing space in your mind. And you gain the comfort of knowing, "I don't have to worry about forgetting that thing. If I need it, it will be right here, in my dump journal." When the thought is on paper or saved in a Google drive, you don't have to worry about it staying in your head.
Dump journals hold no judgment, they demand no organization, and they will gladly receive whatever you give them. If the thought of focusing on gratitude and color-coding charts is not your thing, maybe try an effortless, freeing, dump journal.
The mental health benefits of journaling are numerous. Whether you choose a gratitude journal, a bullet journal, or a dump journal, the act of journaling will benefit you. Clear some space in your mind, put your lists to paper, and dump the scary thoughts out of your head and onto the page. By committing to a journal-based practice, you will find more mental clarity, peace, and presence.
Which journal will you choose?