Journaling is a simple, low-effort task that many of us have done at some point in our lives, where that’s keeping a diary, or documenting a holiday on a personal travel blog. But can journaling help your wellbeing?
It’s not just the literary greats and prominent historical figures, such as Mark Twain and Anne Frank, that famously keep journals. Celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Emma Watson have been quoted as saying that diarising and journaling are part of their daily routines, perhaps to note down ideas or as an act of self care. Heralded by the rise of the self care movement over the last five to 10 years, journaling became one of the top self care activities, parallel with meditation and breathwork.
But why is this easy, everyday act so popular amongst self care stalwarts? Let’s explore.
What is journaling?
Journaling is, simply, the act of writing down one’s thoughts. Some people journal as a daily habit, some might do so when they are feeling certain emotions as a form of cathartic release, and others journal during a significant time in their life.
Journaling became particularly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people wanted to document this unprecedented time and how it affected them. This was also a time when a large amount of the population were affected by poor mental health. UK charity Mind reported that 30% of adults and 34% of young people said that their mental health got much worse during the pandemic. It’s possible that this significant impact to mental health resulted in an uptake in self care activities, catalysed by social media (currently the #journaling hashtag features over 4.5 billion videos on TikTok).
As a result of its popularity, journaling has become a subgenre of self care, with many online creators documenting their journaling progress, displaying creative layouts that they have made and advertising the products that they use to journal.
However, you don’t have to fall victim to the capitalisation of this simple activity. In its most basic form, journaling can do wonders for your mental wellbeing – no TikTok account required!
How can journaling help your wellbeing?
Journaling helps different people in different ways. Note-taking and jotting down ideas aside, journaling is a powerful tool for those seeking balance in their mental health. Here are a few ways in which journaling plays a part in improving mental wellbeing.
Processing stressful situations
When you are going through a tough time, such as grieving the loss of a loved one, a divorce or breakup, or a stressful period in your career, journaling can help to relieve some of that stress by allowing you to process your thoughts coherently.
In one study, which involved medical students undergoing a visual journaling programme, it was suggested that this activity could be ‘a promising intervention for stress reduction’. Another study found a significant improvement in the stress and anxiety of multiple sclerosis patients one month after completing a four-week journaling programme, consisting of writing down their negative feelings and emotions about a traumatic event for 30 minutes each day.
Although these studies feature samples consisting of people from very specific groups, it could be suggested that journaling has a generally positive impact on stress levels.
A form of release when talking is not possible
Although talking therapy is favoured by many as the first port of call in a situation that impacts wellbeing, it’s not always possible to talk about the way we feel. This might be because we are unsure of how to put our feelings into words, we may not trust others with our vulnerability, or we may fear judgement.
Whatever the reason, keeping a private journal may be a more appropriate alternative, allowing you to process how you feel without feeling forced to talk to someone.
Exposure therapy involves safely subjecting oneself to one’s fear, with the intention of overcoming that fear. When this is carried out in written form, it is called ‘exposure scripting’ or ‘imaginal exposure’.
You may start by writing down a scenario in which your fear plays a central part, and describing how it makes you feel. If this makes you too uncomfortable, you can stop anytime you like, and continue later. After you have completed your journal entry, you may wish to revisit it later, and write down how it made you feel. The aim is to continue repeating the process until you are comfortable with your fear.
Journaling with the aim of self-reflection allows you to understand more about yourself and the way you think or act. Sometimes, this process will uncover something that you didn’t know about yourself, while other times it may confirm things you already knew, strengthening your intuition.
Self-reflection encourages growth, helping you figure out what needs to change and what can stay the same. You can do this by choosing prompts to reflect on each day. For example:
- What are five things that you’re grateful for today?
- What do you value most in life at the moment?
- What do you currently fear?
- Write down three things that you would like to do more often
Some self-reflection journals come with pre-written prompts, making the process easier for you.
How to start journaling
The great thing about journaling is that there are no rules. All you have to do is pick up a pen and a journal, and start writing. You could also create a digital journal with an app such as Notion (Apple/Android) or Day One.
Looking for some order to your journaling journey? Try journaling for 20 minutes per day, every day. After a while, it will become a habit that you won’t have to think about, but that will help you endlessly on your journey to better wellbeing.