For people from all walks of life, from poets to the everyday person, writing and journaling has been viewed as a form of expression. It allows you to paint a picture with words and gives physical representation of your emotions, the same way an artist does on a canvas.
When was the last time you jotted down your thoughts? People are social beings by nature, and talking with friends and family is how we express ourselves. For some people, that’s enough. But for others, there are things that can’t be easily said, or they feel the need to express themselves in other ways.
Journaling, or expressive writing, is one way for you to convey feelings and thoughts across when talking about them seems impossible. Not everyone can express themselves orally so writing can be an effective tool.
Keeping journals was a common hobby in the time of our great grandparents, with monarchs, leaders, and even the general population writing about normal and stressful events regularly, if not daily. For them, it was a way to keep records and memories, in the days before access to photos and videos.
Nowadays, we’re seeing plenty of people on social media hype up journaling, saying it’s changed their lives. But how?
According to Dr James Pennebaker, a leader in social psychology, journaling helps you process negative thoughts and traumatic experiences as a form of psychotherapy. For Pennebaker, writing can lead to mental well-being and balance.
To some, starting a journal can be intimidating. This is probably because it involves introspection and being alone with your thoughts and there are times when that isn’t a walk in the park. However, it’ll help you to better understand yourself.
You might feel a little self conscious when writing. The good thing about keeping a journal is that no one needs to read it except you.
If you’re still on the fence about journaling, here are a few positives that might change your mind.
Good for your mental health
Just like how our physical health benefits from a good diet and regular exercise, journaling is like cardio for the mind.
Sometimes we experience stressful moments or events during everyday life that we would rather not disclose to our loved ones, or even struggle to find the words to describe them.
Whether we like it or not, we live in the age of social media and connectivity. Ironically, that trend led to higher stress levels, with more symptoms of depression experienced by teens to young adults.
Cases of mental illnesses are rising and with increasing physical disconnect from social media fixation, and because of this the need for mindfulness is growing.
Journaling can help address this, since it helps you understand negative emotions and work through problem-solving. Aside from that, writing helps you to centre yourself and when reading back after a few days, you might see things from a different perspective.
By recalling those events and memories through retrospect, we understand more about how we felt in that specific moment and learn from those experiences.
Starting a gratitude journal is a good way to redirect hurtful emotions to positive action. This is a little different from your standard journaling. Do this by listing down at least three or four things that you are thankful for to remind yourself of everything good in your life, no matter how big or small.
By making gratitude a habit, you train your mind to look towards the brighter side of things and who knows, it might even change your overall outlook on life.
A form of stress management
Aside from the mental and emotional downsides of stress, it also affects our bodies in the form of compromised immune systems, increased blood pressure and other health problems.
Stress affects anyone regardless of age, gender or financial status. Finding a way to shield yourself from stressors goes a long way in preserving mental wellness.
One of the benefits of journaling is that it allows you to recognise what’s stressing you out. We might not realise what is bothering us until we take a step back and really zone in on our problems, which can provide some stress relief.
In identifying the reasons why you’re bothered and antsy, you can stay away from those situations or even people, or take action to deal with the stress.. Knowing these triggers allow you to protect yourself from these negative emotions in the future.
Admittedly, it’s hard to pinpoint sources of stress. Common causes may be easily identified but oftentimes there are subtler reasons why we feel anxious or worried. In some cases, the less obvious ones tend to be more stubborn.
By writing down your thoughts you can discover a pattern that’ll lead to what’s bothering you. This allows you to find deeper reasons for your worries and act on them.
When faced with difficult emotions or even traumatic events, recording them in a journal entry can ease the burden to both heart and mind. Time may be the greatest healer, but writing about your feelings is like a good cup of tea for the soul.
Once your stress levels go down, you begin feeling better not only emotionally but also physically. This includes sleeping easier and generally feeling more calm and relaxed.
Other benefits of journaling
Stress reduction is the main benefit of journaling but do you know that there are others that are as useful?
For starters, journaling can help you express yourself more. By routinely writing about how you feel, you learn to use words and phrases that allow you to convey your thoughts efficiently.
As you learn to express yourself, you also gain more confidence to speak with other people articulately, resulting in better relationships with friends and family. This is known as your emotional intelligence, which is important for a fulfilling life.
Speaking of improved relationships, keeping a gratitude journal will also teach you to value the good things in life, whether big or small.
Studies have shown that the mechanical act of writing can improve memory retention, making journaling an effective hobby for students and even professionals.
Another side effect of self-reflection through a journal is it enhances creativity as you learn to appreciate your thoughts and emotions better in the process. In fact, Frida Kahlo was known to keep detailed diaries.
Write that down
Starting any hobby or routine can be difficult, and journaling is no exception. It takes effort and self realisation to make it work. For some, they find those requirements too much.
With journaling, however, the sacrifices are definitely worth it.
Reducing stress and anxiety while gaining new insights to your thought process and emotions is invaluable. Even without considering the other benefits it is easy to say that keeping a journal is incredibly worthwhile.
Life can be hard sometimes and it may get too much. Feeling down or overwhelmed is not a sign of weakness, it’s something that we all go through. Keeping a journal can help lighten the load, even just a little.