The benefits of journaling
January is a tale of two outcomes. The new year can motivate us to make positive changes in our lives. Or, it can result in unnecessary pressure to set goals that aren’t attainable.
If you want to embark on a simple yet effective activity this year (that you can stick to) – try journaling. In a nutshell, pen to paper can have powerful effects on our health and happiness…in more ways than you might believe.
Writing for Wellness Coach and Director of the International Association for Journal Writing, Lynda Monk MSW, RSW, CPCC, says: “Journaling is a key part of my self-care and stress management. It is a reflective practice that allows me to process my emotions, gain clarity, express my dreams, desires and more!
“It is like meditating with a pen in my hand and encourages mindfulness, awakened living which supports me in all my roles as a mother to two teen boys, as a wife, as a daughter to a mother with Alzheimer’s disease, as an entrepreneur – journaling helps keep me grounded and living my life aligned with what matters most to me.”
Monk says it allows her to take action on these expressed dreams, such as living with her family in Hawaii for three months, moving to an island at 30-years-old (rather than waiting until retirement) and starting her own business. “Journaling helps me to live my life by design versus default.”
She adds: “I have worked with thousands of clients over the years and journaling has often been a key part of our transformational work together. I have seen clients gain self-confidence, make life decisions (including changing careers, falling in love, leaving marriages, stepping into their dreams and more) through the self-awareness, courage and clarity they gain from writing about their thoughts and feelings.
“Journaling changes lives!”
More than 30 years of scientific research has proven the benefits of journaling. Specifically, Monk recommends the work of Dr. James W. Pennebaker and his books Writing to Heal and Expressive Writing (also by John Evans). Beginning in the late 80s, a variety of his studies presented positive health effects from expressive writing about traumatic events. Benefits included significantly fewer trips to the health centre than control groups, enhanced immune function, fewer absentee days, improved liver enzyme function and improved grade point averages.
Many believe releasing inner emotions in written form will prevent them from festering inside of us and presenting themselves in other ways. Evidence indicates journaling can also assist with recovery from mental or physical stress-induced symptoms or illnesses caused by dealing with repressed emotions.
Though it is important to talk to friends, family or someone you trust, journaling can offer an escape where you can be honest and express emotions without a filter. The biggest hurdle is learning to be honest with yourself. There is no need to alter your thoughts in written form to avoid feelings of guilt – complete authenticity will provide you with the release you need.
Everyone is different and there are no set rules, but here are 5 journaling techniques that could help to positively impact your health:
1) Sentence openers: Starting with phrases like ‘I worry that…’, ‘I fear that…’, ‘I’m angry that’ or ‘I’m sad that…’ will prompt you to release each element of your emotion. Finishing on a positive such as ‘I’m grateful that…’ will leave you on a high and remind you of all the good in your life.
2) Free-flow: No rules, no neat hand-writing, just write. Get everything down that comes to your mind as it comes to your mind. You might want to do this on a particular topic or just see what happens. You’ll most likely be surprised how much you had to say and how good it felt to get it out.
3) Unsent letters: This can prove to be quite an emotional one, so only do it if you feel ready, or want to. It’s an opportunity to get everything off your chest to someone who may have impacted your life, whether they’re close to you still or not. Though tricky, once done, you might find it easier to let go. As you know it’s unsent, there’s nothing to fear.
4) Doodling: If you’d prefer not to write, this is still a great way to creatively express yourself in your journal and calm your mind.
5) Listing: We all know how to do this one. Diaries are for shopping lists, work lists, to-do lists. Why not add lists for things that are causing you stress to the mix. This will clearly outline what is bothering you – you can then use the previous techniques to help you work through each of them.