Benefits of Journaling by The Numbers
Journaling is not just for angsty teens. The benefits of journaling go far deeper than you might think. Taking a few minutes everyday to write down your thoughts is incredibly beneficial.
- Putting your thoughts to paper can give you relief from your feelings and make them more manageable.
- Most of us still bottle our emotions, and it's incredibly harmful to your health.
- Improve your mental and physical health by taking a little time each day to journal.
Journaling can help your mental health, organization, diet, exercise routine, pretty much any aspect of your life. Writing down your thoughts and feelings regularly gives you data on yourself that you can analyze and make changes to. When you take extra time to be detailed in your journaling you are investing in yourself.
By writing down the specifics of your activities, you can track your growth over time. Including numbers like total hours slept, minutes exercised, calories eaten, mood ranked on a scale of 1-10 etc might give you clues as to what aspects of your life are making a difference. By changing your habits and keeping track of those changes one is able to more deeply understand themselves. When you truly understand yourself, fighting issues like anxiety, depression and stress becomes a lot easier and more manageable.
Uncork the bottle
Our society often frowns upon expressing emotions, boys are told not to cry because it shows weakness and women were literally labeled insane in the past for expressing completely normal emotions. Even though the concept of “bottling emotions” is known to be incredibly harmful to our health, most of us still engage in this behavior. We choose not to share emotions often because it makes us feel weak.
Especially in the United States and other individualist cultures, it is a normal mentality to think that we alone are responsible for our successes as we are for our failures. As a result, isolation from others is a very common coping mechanism when we feel overwhelmed. Like most unhealthy behaviors, isolation often leads to further issues like depression and anxiety.
Over the past few decades, the idea of going to see a therapist has become more normalized and this is a great thing for the overall mental health of society. In seeing a therapist we can “unbottle” our emotions. However, even when one sees a therapist, they might still be limiting themselves in terms of emotional expression due to the infrequent nature of therapy. Additionally, therapy involves barriers like time, money and access to a “good” therapist.
Mental benefits of journaling
The biggest benefits of journaling are that anyone can do it, at any time, and anyone can do it for free. Journaling is universally accessible. You could write your thoughts and feelings down with a stick in the dirt if you wanted to. When it comes to the crazy schedules necessary to live one can still carve out a few moments to write in a journal. Though it is noted that 20 minutes of journaling done regularly is ideal. In that journal you can vastly improve your mental health by:
- Prioritizing your problems, concerns and fears
- Tracking your day-to-day symptoms
- Recognizing emotional triggers
- Giving yourself an opportunity for positive self talk
- Identifying negative thoughts and behaviors
If you are fortunate enough to see a therapist, one of the first things they will recommend is journaling.
From a scientific/measurable point of view journaling is known as expressive writing. The factors dealt with in expressive writing include: emotional expressiveness, emotional processing and ambivalence over emotional expression.
One study found that in “openly expressive” individuals journaling for 20 minutes over 4 occasions on “their most stressful/traumatic event in the past five years” significantly reduced feelings of anxiety towards these events. However, this same study also showed that this type of journaling invoked more anxiety in individuals who had “low” levels of expression.
Another study which focused on positive affect journaling or PAJ (journaling that focuses on general emotion and self regulation) found that PAJ decreased mental distress and increased well-being relative to baseline in addition to less depression and anxiety symptoms.
These studies together show that some of the benefits of journaling come from the focus of your individualized journal.
Physical benefits of journaling
Aside from tracking mental processes, the benefits of journaling also include being able to track physical behaviors. Some physical behaviors that are valuable to track can include:
- Time spent sleeping, and quality of sleep
- Time spent exercising, and activities completed
- Time spent with friends, and activities completed
- Time spent alone, and activities completed
- Time spent with a significant other, and activities completed
- What and how much food you are eating
- Time spent working, and activities completed
- Time spent having fun, and activities completed
How to get started
In addition to tracking these behaviors, it is also beneficial to note your mood and thoughts during these activities. If you do this regularly, it might be very easy to pick out the behaviors that cause you stress and eliminate them. Some other journaling tips are:
1. Try and write everyday - Making journaling apart of your daily routine will make it easier to be consistent, but remember to not be too hard on yourself if you really just don't feel like it or forget a day
2. Make it easy - Keep a notepad and pen handy or use your smartphone notes. It doesn't matter where you journal!
3. Draw if you want - Remember your journal is yours! There is no right or wrong way to journal or to achieve happiness. If you feel like expressing yourself with pictures that’s great too, whatever works for you.
The benefits of journaling are theoretically endless. Completing a daily journal might sound like a lot but it is a sure way to help you organize and understand yourself just a little bit better.
Written by Kiana St. Onge