Although I’m a writer, I’ve never (ever) been a journal-er. It’s just not my thing! But when asked if I’d be interested in doing an experiment of journaling before bed every night, I agreed.
There are a right many benefits to journaling. Research suggests this particular form of self-expression is effective in helping manage depression, anxiety, and stress in people of all ages. I work full time as a freelance writer and I’m working part time on my master’s degree. Being super busy—on top of everything else this past year has thrown at all of us—has me super stressed out and moderately anxious.
I set out on a 30-day journaling journey to see if this therapeutic activity could help me manage my stress and anxiety, and also to see if it could help me get in touch with writing as a form of creativity and expression, rather than writing for work and school. Read on to see how it went!
The Benefits of Journaling
“The calm and comfort that comes with putting your thoughts and feelings down on paper, together with the insight that comes from identifying and understanding your emotional triggers, is a real recipe for improved mental health,” says counselor Rebecca Vivash to Patient.
The above description could also be understood as mindfulness. Journaling as a tool for a reflection is powerful, and the fact that you must exist in the present moment by writing your thoughts and fears down—rather than letting them run rampant in your mind—helps contextualize them. Plus, writing things down by hand takes much longer than thinking about them, talking about them, and even typing them, forcing you to slow the flow of your thoughts to a trickle.
Because the act of writing your feelings down forces you to focus on them a bit more, journaling is also said to improve emotional intelligence, or EQ. Making a habit of reflecting on your emotions, and examining them through a nonjudgmental lens, can help you realize and understand patterns in how you respond to negative stimuli and events. By sitting with your feelings, and allowing yourself to take the time to make sense of them, you will grow as a person, and therefore become more emotionally intelligent!
Another fantastic benefit of journaling? Setting and tracking goals. Studies show that brain activation significantly increases after writing something down rather than just observing; a.k.a. physically writing something down sends a message to your brain that it’s important. For this reason, journaling is also said to help strengthen memory.
Methods of Journaling
There are dozens of journaling techniques out there, but below are three popular methods.
Exactly how it sounds! This is the most popular form of journaling, and generally what people think of when they think about journaling. You sit down and just write what comes to mind.
Whether you’re trying to plan your day, stick to a goal, or keep yourself organized, lists are a great and easy way to map out your thoughts and necessary actions.
This form of journaling has gained popularity in recent years. It’s simply writing down and reflecting on things that you’re grateful for. Doing this on a regular basis encourages you to focus on the positives of life!
So whether or not the objective is to get more organized, set and achieve goals, manage stress and anxiety, or understand yourself better, journaling is a great tool!
I’ll be trying my hand at freewriting and lists. I already have a habit of making coffee in the morning and thinking about what I’m grateful for, so I’d like journaling to function as a stress management and organizational tool!
I have a horrible history of buying planners and notebooks and then never using them… so I’m a bit wary of this experiment to begin with. The first week is fine, but I tend to use my journal to plan my days ahead and to remind myself of things I need to do.
I do find it slightly comforting to create an outline of my day the night before; it’s similar to picking out your outfit. It makes everything more streamlined, but, I will say, I don’t really enjoy doing it. It’s simply another task.
I’m very into making lists! This week is more about dealing with stress and anxiety. I find that I already know and understand myself and my emotions very well, so journaling isn’t going to help me with my EQ, but I totally understand how it could help others!
In terms of managing stress, it is nice to write down everything I’m stressed out about. Being able to look at this little list of things that are (mostly) beyond my control is a good reminder that stressing about something I can do nothing about will do me no good in the end!
I write all day for both work and school, so sitting down and writing again before bed feels like more work sometimes. Honestly, I fell out of it this week because I’ve had a lot of papers for school and articles due, so I’m just not interested in writing anymore… especially by hand right before bedtime!
So something journaling has really helped me with is remembering things, especially appointments. By writing things down, I’m really putting important dates and times in my mind, which really helps because I’m a disorganized person! I’m still not entirely enjoying it, but I’m learning how to make it work for me.
This has been a very functional experiment! I’ve learned that I’m really enjoying being able to give myself a bird’s eye view of what the next day will look like. It’s actually having an unexpected positive effect on my sleep; I’m able to go to bed less anxious, so I’m falling asleep faster and resting much better!
I think journaling, especially in this list form, could be really helpful for people like me who spin a lot of plates. I also just think taking time to reflect on the day is a great way to contextualize what’s going on. I’ve definitely been a lot less anxious over this past month, so I and really encourage everyone to sit down and write a little bit!
Do you journal? If so, what type of journaling do you do, and how has it helped you?
Featured image: @sandyhouuu