The Power of Journaling
Updated: Jan 11
Do you currently keep a journal of some sort? If you ask people this question, often you’ll get the response of ‘not anymore’. For some reason, keeping a journal or sometimes called a diary, is thought to be a juvenile activity. This is a common misconception and one that could be detrimental to your overall mental health and spiritual wellbeing. The power of journaling has been proven by multiple scientific studies. Here we’ll tell you exactly what those studies uncovered, why you should be journaling and ideas for what to include in your writing.
What is Journaling?
Journaling is anything you want it to be! That may seem vague but it’s true. The process of keeping a journal is highly individual. However, it usually follows the core idea of writing about yourself and your life. Some people write about their day to day experiences while some only write when they need to work through something traumatic. One person may use their journal as a scrapbook, pasting in images and trinkets, while another will just record their dreams from the night before.
The most productive form of journaling is expressing what’s significant to you. This can include your thoughts, emotions, and ideas. The most important thing is that you just write. We’ll explain exactly why below.
The Power of Journaling – Why you should be doing it
So many people reported such positive effects from keeping a journal, that scientists were interested in digging deeper. What they uncovered was surprising, journaling not only helps your mental health but also your physical health as well.
Research conducted at the University of Arizona showed that people who wrote in a journal regularly after a traumatic event (in this study, it was a divorce) ended the study with a lower heart rate and higher heart rate variability. It also helped the participants psychologically as well. Compared to the control group (who didn’t keep a journal), there were able to process their experience better and move forward more easily.
Kyle Bourassa, the study’s lead author stated, “one short intervention, 20 minutes over three days, translated to these measurable effects.”
Extensive studies by psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker of the University of Texas have shown many positive correlations to the power of journaling. While he had already shown in prior studies that journaling can help anxiety and depression, his latest research proved it also strengthened immune cells in the body called T-lymphocytes. “By writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings,” he explains. “It helps you to get past them.”
Another study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people with chronic illnesses can improve their health by keeping a journal. Psychologist Dr. Joshua Smyth of Syracuse University research two groups of people with the same chronic illnesses, one group kept a journal and one did not. The group that kept the journal showed improved health overall and a slower rate of deterioration from the disease. “So, writing helped patients get better, and also kept them from getting worse,” explained Smyth.
What to Write in Your Journal
As we covered at the beginning of this article, journals are highly individual. What you want to keep in it is completely up to you. We will give you some suggestions below. We recommend trying each of these at least once to see which helps you best.
Tracking Your Goals
It’s a good idea to keep a page in your journal dedicated to your short-term and long-term goals. You should write to them with a pencil, though! Goals can change sometimes or move down a different path and that’s okay.
Some ideas for short-term goals could be writing a story, finishing a craft project, or losing a few pounds of weight. While long-term goals could include getting a promotion at work, buying a house, or saving for a dream vacation.
Whatever your goals may be, keep track of them here and write thoughts about your progress.
Remembering Your Dreams
Scientists are still not exactly sure why we dream. However, the theory is it allows our subconscious to work out problems from our waking life. This is an important part of our sleep cycle and usually occurs during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase. A book published by the American Psychological Association explained that dreams have been shown to express conceptions and concerns and they are consistent over years and even decades.
Some believe that the repetition of dreams we experience is due to the fact that we don’t pay attention to them or heed their messages. This is why millions of people find reprieve in keeping a dream journal. You don’t have to keep a separate journal but many people like this option since all of their dreams are in one place.
Whether you keep a dream journal or write in your regular journal, the best idea is to have the journal and a pen/pencil next to your bed when you go to sleep. As soon as you wake up, jot down anything you remember. Even if the detail seems insignificant, such as a yellow umbrella, write it down. Most of us forget our dreams very quickly after waking, so it’s important to write down as much as you can remember right when you wake up. If you happen to remember more details later, make sure to go back and write those down as well.
Over time you’ll notice a consistent pattern between all of your dreams. Even if some details can’t be explained, others will be repeated from dream to dream. Pay attention to these messages and try to understand what your subconscious is trying to tell you.
Recording Your Experiences, Emotions, and Ideas
The most popular reason people keep a journal is actually the most beneficial to their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Writing down your experiences is at the core of the power of journaling. By writing down things that happen or have happened, you allow yourself the time to process through them. Studies have concluded that these easy but vital steps are crucial for your overall health.
Keep in mind when you’re writing in your journal that you are doing this solely for yourself. It is a private place where you can go to vent your frustrations or celebrate your victories. Be honest and open with how you’re feeling and what you’re going through. Allowing yourself to write about your experiences, your emotions, and your ideas will bring you a sense of wholeness and contentment. It can allow you to feel better about yourself and move on from traumatic moments.
The power of journaling has been proven by the medical and scientific community to improve your health, happiness, and well-being. All you have to do now is pick up the pen!