Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD
“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life-expanding.” – Jen Williamson.
“I write in a journal daily. This extraordinary ritual has revolutionized my mindset, transformed my heartset, and generally influenced in my life exponentially.” – Robin.
“Writing is my way of expressing – and thereby eliminating – all the various ways we can be wrong-headed.” – Zadie Smith.
The issue of mental health of today’s young people is a very pressing one. We all know that they are going through a lot of stress and challenging situations that only generate more stress and anxiety. Fortunately, scientists have established that one of the best ways to manage one’s mental health is to keep a journal, where people can write about their traumatic experiences as well as normal daily situations.
Indeed, when we write about the traumatic or stressful situations that we go through, we can even feel immediate relief. We can also feel like we are in control of our mental health. Some scientists have even established that those people who routinely keep a diary, where they describe all their emotions, tend to be healthier overall and even take fewer days off.
When we write about our mental health, we tend to be less judgemental about our emotional reactions and the way we deal with it. So, in this short article we are going to look at the various benefits of keeping a journal. We will also give you some tips on how to make the most of your diary writing experience.
Here is an interesting fact for you – journaling is a widely-accepted practice among those seeking help from counsellors and psychotherapists. When we are writing our thoughts down, we are helping ourselves reduce anxiety. Likewise, we raise our own awareness about our thoughts, especially the negative ones. When we do journaling, we help ourselves to break free from the negative cycle of emotions. It may seem incredible, but you may feel the positive effects of journaling immediately – all you need to do is to write a couple of paragraphs about how you feel.
There are many other benefits associated with journaling. For example, when we write down our thoughts in our journal, we are more likely to have good blood pressure and a better lung function. Those who keep a journal are less likely to be absent from work and if we are talking about students – they are more likely to be academically successful and have higher grades.
But, however, there is one important caveat that we need to keep in mind here. Do not overdo it. Do not try to chronicle your emotions every day. There is a risk that you will become jaded and that you will simply lose interest in writing your thoughts down. Writing about your emotions should not feel like something monotonous or tiring, which is why it is important to do journaling moderately.
It is interesting that although the benefits of journaling can be felt immediately, some of us can still be reluctant to put down their emotions on paper. One of the most common reasons for that is the pain that one may feel during the process. Indeed, there is no denying that writing about one’s traumatic emotions can be unpleasant sometimes.
Indeed, we usually try to avoid unpleasant thoughts and emotions. And if we decide to write them down, then we need to come back to them. Sometimes, but not very often, writing about our negative emotions can even make us feel sad and slightly depressed. But these uncomfortable feelings will go away. Despite the discomfort that you may feel initially, the long-term effects of journaling are well documented and will be felt by you as well.
So here are some tips for those wanting to give journaling a try.
First, try to find a quiet place, where you will have no distractions.
If you are distracted, you will not be able to capture all your feelings on paper. Also, setting a particular time during the day when you sit down to do journalling is also helpful.
Set a goal
Try writing three or four days a week. When you have a goal, you are more likely to stick to it.
Do not impose limitations on what you want to write.
Write about anything you want. Even if you feel that what you are writing may not be related to what you are going through, just keep on writing. Also, do not try to impose any structure (unless it helps you). Write in a freestyle.
Refrain from criticising yourself for your writing.
If you are struggling – just start small. Start describing your feelings. Name them. Then write when you first noticed them. If you are not sure how to describe your feelings, just describe what has happened to you during the day.
Do not worry about grammar and punctuation – these things are completely irrelevant here. Nobody is going to read what you are writing and therefore nobody will judge you.
Also don’t judge yourself for what you write. For example, some people may feel guilty if they are expressing rage over something that they think should not make them feel angry. But there is no need to feel guilty. Being angry is a perfectly human emotion and the fact that you are trying to work through it is very commendable.
Remember that you may feel upset in the process of journaling.
There is nothing wrong with that too. If you need to take a break, do that. Remember you should not feel pressured in any way. And if you feel like your emotions are too strong to manage them at the time of writing, perhaps, there is nothing wrong with putting off you’re journaling until the next day.
Be creative when writing (if you want to, of course).
If you feel that you have become bored writing in the same style, you can rearrange your thoughts on paper. You can make a list, for example of things that you are feeling. Or better yet, you can author a poem or a song (that is what many singers and authors do actually). If you don’t feel like writing, but you still feel the need to express yourself on paper, you can draw your emotions. You can even write a story with the main protagonist, who is you. This way it will be easy for you to deal with difficult emotions which you may want to avoid.
Note what makes you feel upset
If you don’t feel like writing passages about what you feel every day, you can make short notes about your triggers. One of the benefits of journaling is that it can help you identify your triggers. Triggers – are special circumstances that make you feel upset or angry or cause any other uncomfortable feelings. Once you identify them you can write them down and then, after some time, you will be able to identify triggers in your life, which cause you to engage in negative thinking.
If you are not sure what decision to make, journaling can help you.
Indeed, sometimes we are faced with the need to make big decisions. And making a big decision can certainly be overwhelming. As far as journaling, all you need to do is divide a sheet of paper into two columns – pros and cons. Looking at these two columns will help you understand what it is that you really want.
Journalling is a particularly good habit to have. It is beneficial both in the short term and long term. Do not feel embarrassed and do not judge yourself when you are writing your journal. Everybody has their own thoughts and emotions and writing these thoughts and ideas down is a good way for you to process, accept and live with them.
Writing thoughts down helps us understand that our thoughts are just our thoughts. They are not reality. But they are the prism through which we see things around us. And if you know how to deal with our thoughts (even though it is a challenging process), you will feel a happier and fulfilling life.
So, try journaling today. Don’t put it off. If you are interested in learning more about the existing strategies to improve your emotional intelligence, check out the articles on our Shiminly blog written by our experts.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.