Throughout history, people have kept written records of their daily activities, thoughts, goals and dreams. The first prolific use of journals or diaries occurred in 10th century Japan, but there is evidence that medieval mystics actually founded the practice in a spiritual effort to connect emotions and events.
There is more to journaling than simply record-keeping. In fact, there is substantial scientific evidence that shows health benefits connected with keeping a diary. James Pennebaker, a leading researcher in this field, has found that journaling actually strengthens the immune system, leading to, in some instances, relief for asthma and arthritis sufferers.
Journaling also has a positive impact on mental health. According to Maud Purcell, LCSW, writing engages the analytical left brain so the creative right brain is free to imagine and feel without evaluation. Keeping a daily or weekly journal can also release stress by allowing you to “vent” and clarify how you are feeling about difficult situations and challenges. Writing about emotions tends to reduce their intensity, which, in turn, reduces anxiety associated with those feelings.
For me, journaling serves two purposes: (1) it helps me problem-solve and (2) it provides me with an artistic outlet. By writing down details about a problem I am facing, I can be more expansive in my thinking—especially since I don’t edit anything in my journal. It’s like a private brainstorming session! Many unexpected solutions have come from this activity.
The best part of keeping a journal, for me, however, is the artistic aspect. Every year, I order a custom journal which has not only a calendar but also coloring pages, notes pages, graph paper, and many other places for self-expression. Being a sticker-holic, I love to decorate my pages with quotes, mantras, pep talks, and pictures of various activities I [plan to] do. I keep track of my fitness activities, my menu planning, books I’ve read, and my work projects in the same notebook in which I journal about my feelings. I even do mini vision boards on some of the blank pages of the book! My journal has become an addiction—an activity that always distracts me and soothes me when my anxiety spikes.
One more benefit of journaling is the self-awareness that inevitably arises from clarifying your emotions and expressing your views on a regular basis. Going back and rereading older entries can be so helpful, especially when you start to see certain patterns and trends in your feelings and choices.
If you are thinking about starting a journaling practice, I suggest three guidelines:
- Do not censor yourself or edit yourself—your journal is a safe and private place for you to say ANYTHING.
- Make your journal something you enjoy spending time with. Use colored pencils, stickers and any other decorative items, if you like that kind of thing. If not, keep it simple. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a customized diary; you can use a plain spiral notebook or post-it notes, if that suits you.
- Don’t make writing in your journal a chore. If you don’t want to write anything on a given day or week or month, then don’t! Remember, the goal is to distract from and soothe anxiety, not to create it!