Writing a diary narrating experiences and feelings is often associated with teenage years. However, the practice of journaling can be a very effective therapeutic tool to “externalize problems”, and to understand them not as a part of us but as something that has an effect on our lifetime.
As human beings, we organize our lives through stories or narratives, life is an accumulation of stories in which we are protagonists.
If you have ever been to a psychologist, you know that it is inevitable to find yourself with questions about what our childhood was like, what our relationship with our parents is like, how we see life, what we want, etc. We do not have the tendency to tell the psychologist about our achievements. On the contrary, the query becomes a space of relief in which we try to make sense of what is happening to us, as we dig up our stories in each session, we make sense of them and learn to tell them again. We learn to “rewrite” our stories.
Narrative therapy focuses on the atypical: that is, on what the person sees as atypical. It moves us to examine the atypical in detail: because through the uncommon, people can escape the stories that determine their perceptions, find opportunities for growth, development and, therefore, their lives.
The Main Benefits of Journaling
Journaling is a practice with many benefits, and journaling comes in many forms. You might have a journal for keeping track of your dreams, a therapeutic journal, a graphic diary, a gratitude journal, even a book of shadows, etc. First and foremost a journal offers a safe space to write and reflect about thoughts, emotions, memorable moments, a way of enhancing creativity and writing skills, to amplify your memory, to release emotional tension… You can write whatever you want from your deepest feelings to the wildest ideas. Journaling is an effective act of self-care and also, to one’s heart and pocket, one of the cheapest.
The main benefits of having a journal are:
Finding clarity about your thoughts and feelings
Do you ever feel confused inside, without being able to be sure about what you want or what you are feeling? The act of writing what you are thinking and feeling, for just a few minutes, helps to bring clarity about your emotions.
By writing regularly, you will be able to identify thought patterns, understand what causes each of your emotions and resolve issues with which you may experience some difficulty in dealing. It’s a hard task to try to extract all the info your mind accumulates during your daily experiences. Thoughts, ideas, and impressions gain visibility on paper being written and organized, allowing the complex to gain accessibility, allowing you to establish connections from the chaos and perceive new perspectives that you were not aware of.
Reduce stress and anxiety
Writing about negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, disillusionment or shame, helps to remove weight and reduce the intensity of those emotions. In addition, we often cause stress reactions in ourselves because we have a constant and infinite loop of thoughts that are repeated inside our heads (anxiety). The act of writing helps to break this cycle, by expelling some thoughts from within, to paper.
Several studies indicate positive effects of journaling on depression
Journaling is not a substitute for professional guidance when depression is severe, but it can complement other forms of treatment or act as a stand-alone symptom management tool for those with mild depression.
Expressive writing can reduce symptoms of depression in women who are struggling with the aftermath of intimate partner violence (Koopman, Ismailji, Holmes, Classen, Palesh, & Wales, 2005);
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);
Expressive journaling may not reduce the frequency of intrusive thoughts in depressed individuals, but it moderates their impact on depressive symptoms, leading to a reduction in symptoms (Lepore, 1997);
Journaling can help college students who are vulnerable to depression reduce their brooding and rumination, two contributing factors of depressive symptoms (Gortner, Rude, & Pennebacker, 2006);
In general, 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).
Cited from: https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/
Finding solutions to problems or conflicts
Writing allows you to put an order in your thoughts and helps to make much clearer connections between different concepts. In addition, the solution to problems is often found creatively and not just analytically, and since writing is a creative activity, you are putting yourself in contact with that part of your brain, helping creative ideas to emerge.
How To Start Journaling
Start by finding a place where you feel comfortable, drink a relaxing tea, do a meditation or a breathing exercise. Do it every day to implement the habit, and start with baby steps 5 minutes a day may be enough for those just starting. Make it easy by keeping your notebook and pen handy where you are going to write. Use the strategy that seems most suitable to you, there are no rules only guidelines, and keep your writing private so you can really feel at ease to write whatever you feel like.
The journaling process aims to simplify complex experiences, organize the chaos and to assign meaning to life events in order to manage emotions and thoughts. The Center for Journal Therapy created a formula to simplify all the process, called W.R.I.T.E.
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-center 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 cell 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?
T ime yourself
E xit smart
Journaling It’s Worth The Time
Dr. Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist in Santa Barbara, California, explains that the practice of writing can improve the way the brain receives, processes, retains and seeks information, promotes focus and attention, reinforces long-term memory, clarifies patterns, gives the brain time to think and, when properly guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulation of the highest cerebral cognition.
Using paper and pen improves information understanding, and the act of writing by hand, simultaneously activates motor coordination, memory, reasoning, in addition to other cognitive skills. Handwriting is an excellent cognitive exercise that slows brain aging.
Remember, your journal is personal and private, so find a method that makes you feel relaxed, engaged, mindful, and keep going.