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June 22, 2021

The Many Benefits of Journaling

Written by Dr. Gia Marson

From improving sleep to decreasing stress, journaling offers numerous benefits backed by science

Did you have a journal or diary when you were a kid? It was fun and thrilling to keep your deepest thoughts and feelings private, tucked away from the rest of the world.

So, what made you stop?

Work, relationships, and time constraints are often the culprits. Or maybe you just felt like keeping a journal no longer served you.

Science says otherwise.

Why Journaling Is Important

Journaling is about more than just reflecting on fond memories or airing your grievances. Some of the most brilliant minds in history kept journals, from Mark Twain and Albert Einstein to Marie Curie.  Many of these visionaries credit journaling with making them who they were. They stated that journaling was a way to practice their principles, purge the mind of agitation, and foster creativity. Now we have evidence to back up their claims.

Studies have shown that the benefits of journaling include:

  • reduced stress and anxiety
  • Enhance your unique intuitive strengths
  • Improve your sense of well-being
  • Lower blood pressure and the risk for inflammatory illnesses
  • Relieve anxiety, stress, fatigue, and general mood and sleep disturbances for people who suffer from cancer symptoms and treatment side effects, thus improving their quality of life
  • Reduce common menopausal symptoms
  • Improve symptoms of anxiety

So, how is all of this achieved simply through writing in a journal? Let’s take a closer look at the science behind a few journaling techniques.

The Science Behind Journaling

Are you skeptical about the health benefits of journaling? Here’s what researchers have discovered about this writing practice.

Journaling makes you better at learning

One Harvard study showed that participants who journaled at the end of each day were nearly 23 percent more productive than those who didn’t. In other studies, nursing students and dental students found that journaling enhanced their learning after reflecting on a clinical situation that involved critical thinking. These outcomes suggest that reflection is a powerful tool for taking in and disseminating information, as well as developing more complex thinking.

 “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”  —John Dewey, philosopher

Journaling makes you better at understanding yourself

Do you struggle to understand your own behavior and express what’s on your mind? Science suggests that journaling can help you decode the thoughts and emotions that you can’t easily put into words. It can even be a form of therapy. Writing forces you to organize your thoughts, feelings, and ideas on paper, better equipping you to express those same ideas and needs in daily life. As you know, how you respond to difficult situations can take you in very different directions—sometimes to desired outcomes and other times on a detour. Self-reflection enables you to live a more intentional life.

Journaling makes you better at self-care

There is evidence that journaling can lead to greater self-awareness, improved self-care, better  stress management, and decreased emotional distress after recovering from a serious illness. One Cambridge University study found that participants who journaled about a traumatic event for 15 to 20 minutes over three to five days saw significant improvements in their psychological and physical health. But journaling isn’t only useful after a traumatic event. It can also help you process and reduce emotional distress caused by everyday situations. Science suggests that writing about positive outcomes in negative situations can decrease anxiety and help you process negative thoughts and feelings.

 Journaling makes you better at reasoning and remembering

There’s evidence that journaling can improve cognitive function, focus, and memory capacity. By writing about intrusive thoughts, your mind is free to let them go and to instead focus on cognition and other mental activities. Recording events in a journal helps create more specific memories, and the act of writing also increases your capacity to remember them.

Journaling makes you better at sleeping

If you’re one of the nearly 70 million Americanswho struggle with falling and staying asleep, you may be pleased to learn that journaling before bedtime is especially helpful for reducing worry, decreasing cognitive stimulation, and preparing your mind for rest. By reflecting on the day’s events and your responses to them, you can hamper the racing thoughts and stress that likely keep you up at night. You don’t even need to write for a long time; even jotting down a specific to-do list for 5 minutes can improve your sleep hygiene, so your body and mind can rest, recharge, and reset for the next day.

Journaling makes you better at positive thinking

By writing for 15 minutes daily about positive emotional experiences in response to prompts such as “What you are thankful for?” and “What did someone else do for you?,” participants in one study exhibited reduced mental distress, anxiety, and perceived stress; a better sense of resilience and social connection; and fewer days of pain interfering with activities. This is why journaling prompts for therapy can be helpful during hard times.

How to Start Journaling

If you’re ready to welcome improvements into your life, these journaling tips might help:

  1. Identify Your Goal

Begin by thinking about what you are trying to achieve. What aspect of your life do you want to improve? While there is no single right way to journal, different self-reflective journaling techniques can lead to different outcomes.

  1. Indulge in a New Journal

Sometimes the mere act of purchasing a new journal is enough to motivate you to start writing. Find a journal that speaks to you. Consider size, binding, cover design, weight of the paper, lined or unlined pages, containing journaling prompts or blank. A new, stylish journal can increase your motivation to get you started on your new habit.

  1. Start Small…

Start by writing in your journal once a day, even if it’s only for a few minutes or a few sentences. Avoid putting too much pressure on yourself to write lengthy entries. You want journaling to be a release, not an added stress.

  1. …But Be Consistent

While you don’t want to create another obligation, being consistent with your journaling will establish a habit that is sustainable. Try to schedule it around the same time each day, such as before going to bed or first thing in the morning. But if you feel inspired or are struggling with stress outside the journaling window, by all means go for it!

  1. Reflect on Your Writing

Reflecting on your writing is important. Every so often, revisit old entries to see where you were mentally and emotionally, and how you’ve progressed. For example, if you are writing  5-minute to-do lists at night, notice any pattern of recurrent worries. Are you still dealing with the same negative thoughts and emotions, or have you improved? Did your outlook on specific events and people change? Use this comparison to continue making meaningful changes in your life.

Whether you’re dealing with a recent traumatic event, emotional distress, or simply need a method for self-examination, journaling can help. The act of writing is therapeutic. It helps you let go and work through negative thoughts and feelings while strengthening your coping skills. It also offers numerous, long-lasting health benefits. I hope you’ll start journaling today!


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