Following from my blog from last week, I thought it would be a good place to discuss journaling and why I am forever mentioning it.
Journaling is a common non-pharmacological tool which can be part of a healthy lifestyle for managing stress, negative emotions, anxiety as well a depression. It is simply the act of writing down your feelings and thoughts, which can help you understand your emotions better.
I have personally used this tool for over ten years now and often prescribe it to my patients too. Some find it hard to start as it can be a challenge to confront your emotions. However, research shows that the more honest one can be while journaling, the more beneficial it is. A systematic review published in the BMJ, supports the benefits of journaling, suggesting that it can be easily used as an adjunct to support mental wellbeing, given it is low cost with low risk of adverse effects.
There two main forms of journaling;
1.Expressive: This is where one writes about the deepest thoughts and feelings. This can be helpful when trying to unravel why are you feeling a certain way. Sometimes it can be very effective to answer dilemma’s you might be facing or even to understand what triggered the negative emotions. I use this tool so often when I am faced with an issue which is bugging me. It can be little things or even big concerns but once I start opening up to the page, and write honestly- I am able to get some sort of feedback. Even if that only means getting the feeling of control. It can help prioritize problems, fears and concerns. Expressive writing may help you see a pattern to day to day ups and downs of the mood, and if there is a common theme to the triggers. It can be an opportunity to become aware of the negative thought processes where positive self-talk can be slowly introduced.
2.Gratitude: This is writing about accounts that you are grateful for or appreciate and it helps one focus on positive side of things. The Nun study is one of the long-term studies which has shown that focusing on positive emotions can actually improve longevity. In another study, Cohen and his colleagues were able to show how focusing on the positive emotional experiences reduced the risk of developing cold symptoms. Journaling about what you appreciate is a good way to put the spotlight on the positive side of things.
Some of evidence based benefits of Journaling
- Improved sleep.
- Improved wellbeing after stressful or traumatic events.
- Increased performance at work, as one is able to reflect on their own experience and learn from them.
- Disrupts intrusive and avoidant thoughts of negative events in the past. This boosts cognition and helps improve memory.
- Helps focus on positivity even in negative situations.
- Reduces anxiety by slowing things down.
My tips to get you journaling
- Keep it simple and start small. I started with just three things which I am grateful for. I could do this easily on even the busiest days. It took my mind away from the negative chatter of the day. It could be just one line where you can write one good thing and one challenge you faced. Starting can be difficult but trust me once you are in week two or three, you would want to write more.
- Use is to plan the next day or week. This can help get back some control when we are on a constant run.
- Reflect on an event which upset you– I find this very useful as it gives me the ability to release emotions on paper rather than becoming reactive with loved ones or colleagues. I get a better perspective on the situation and then can choose my response in a productive way. Often this is where I can see my faults and ego clashes too, which help me grow into a better me.
- Brainstorming Ideas: Again this is also my favourite as I often find that I can breakdown some of my projects into little steps during the journaling process.
- Write quotes which inspire you: These can act as positive affirmations and also help on days when you really can’t think of much else. I sometimes draw strength from writing quotations which resonate with what is happening in life.
- Have a journaling ritual: make it a time when you can relax. I love to journal with my essential oils in my diffuser or sometimes a nice cup of tea. This has become part of my self-care routine.
- Write, draw or doodle: It’s your page and do what you feel like doing. A blank page can make you feel uncomfortable initially but once you start honestly putting your emotions onto paper, something starts slowing the mind down and you can focus better on what is needing your attention. You never know your journal may even become a book later on, like it did for Matthew McConaughey! (I loved ‘Greenlights’ which has actually got his doodling and handwritten notes in it too.)
- Release of negative emotions: This is a tool I have seen several counsellors and psychotherapists use. Being honest about the negative emotions can be a powerful tool to release the negative energy and build reslience.
- Happy experiences: I learnt as part of a course about well-being, that collecting experiences rather than things makes life more fulfilling. Since then I look forward to writing about my happy experiences as well. It makes my heart smile and feel blissful. Like noticing the dancing rainbow lights on the wall, when the sunbeams go through my sun catcher on the windowsill. Or when my son’s give me a nice hug just because they felt like it!
I think that should give an idea of what journaling is and how it can help. Give it a try and see what unravels, what you learn about your amazing self and how you heal and grow into a better person, every single day. I certainly have noticed this with my own journey of journaling.