Why should you consider journaling? Have you ever just felt stuck? Stuck in a feeling, emotion, situation, or decision-making process? Do you feel overwhelmed by life, anxiety, Covid19, the things that you can’t control, work, relationships, and so much more?
What do you do when you feel stuck or overwhelmed? How do you process these emotions? Have you ever considered journaling? Journaling is an extremely healthy way to process events, feelings, and thoughts.
Journaling has so many benefits: it is classically excellent for managing depression, anxiety, stress, frustration, and processing emotions, but it has also been shown to improve your physical health as well! One study showed that journaling just 15-20 min, 5 times, in a 4-month period was enough to lower blood pressure and improve liver functions. Another study showed that regular journaling increased immune system function, lessened symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and even improved wound healing time. Journaling can improve memory and comprehension as well as increase memory capacity; it strengthens emotional functions, increases self-confidence, helps you identify distorted thinking patterns, meet your goals, aids in recovery and trauma healing, cultivates gratitude, enhances creativity by accessing the right-side of the brain, give you perspective, and keeps a record of your life. The best part is that these benefits are shown to be long-term when a journaling habit is created. Isn’t that amazing?!
I bet after you read that list of all the benefits you are ready to dive in, but are potentially overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry- I’ve got a list of journaling tips, techniques, and prompts for you, so keep on reading!
How do you start journaling and reap all those amazing benefits? Here are some tips and guidelines to help you get started.
Tips and guidelines:
- Create a private, distraction free space: Try to find a place where you can think and journal without interruption or distraction. It’s important that you feel comfortable and safe, especially if you are working through particularly difficult emotions and thoughts.
- Let go of rules: You can set a time limit or frequency if you’d like, but sometimes when you are just starting to journal it is easier if you take the pressure off. Even journaling just once per week is proven to be highly beneficial. Also remember that grammar and spelling don’t matter in your journal- its only for you so let go of that perfection.
- Keep your journal secure and private: It is important that you feel safe when you journal- nobody but yourself needs to see what you write or create unless you want to share it.
- Check with your attorney if you are in litigation or expect to be so: Journals may or may not be discoverable evidence in litigation- this topic is discussed in “Iowa code: scope of discovery”. (Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.503). Every state varies, so be sure to get legal guidance.
- Don’t pressure yourself to write about a specific topic or trauma: Journal about what feels right in the moment, use a structure or technique that feels safe. Sometimes its ok to push yourself out of your comfort zone under the care and direction of an experienced therapist, but if you are new to journaling do what feels right.
- Switch things up: Try different forms/techniques of journaling or integrate 2 different forms. (see techniques below)
- Review your journals: Going back to occasionally read your journals can help you see how much you have grown and can help inform your future decisions.
- Use WRITE technique to get you started:
- W- what: think about what you want to write about or what is going on that you need to process. Is there anything you are avoiding? Give it a name and write it down.
- R- review or reflect: take a few moments to be still, calm your breathing, and think. Start with an “I” statement like, “I feel…”, “I want…”, or “I think…” and keep them in the present tense.
- I- investigate: investigate thoughts and feelings in your writing. Just keep going.
- T- time: set a goal and time yourself to ensure you write a specific number of minutes. This is particularly helpful in some styles of journaling and less so in others.
- E- exit: possibly the most important step is to strategically exit your journaling. Read what you wrote and take a moment to reflect. Sum it up in one or two sentences with statements like, “As I read this, I notice…”, “I am aware of…”, or “I feel…”. If you have any action items or steps you want to take next, write them down now.
I know most people think of journaling and picture a young girl with her diary and sparkle gel pens, but in reality, journaling is for EVERYONE. There are so many techniques/forms of journaling and having a handful in mind can really help when you are feeling stuck in life.
15 Journaling Methods:
TLC Thank-Learn-Connect. Simply write a few sentences for each heading. What are you thankful for today? (be specific) What did you learn today? We are always learning new things, there is no restriction on this topic. And finally, what things did you connect with today (concepts, analogies, etc.) or with whom did you connect? Reflect on and summarize these connections. This technique is so simple- which is what makes it the easiest one to start with. And it’s so easy to remember!
Visual Journaling is when you use art or any visual medium to represent your thoughts and feelings. This could include a mixture of words and art. Try out a variety of mixed media: pencils, paint, paper, digital art, photos, magazine cuttings, markers, etc.
Musical Journaling Any sound will do- you don’t have to be musically trained to do this. Try playing a keyboard, sing, or turn just about anything into a drum- as long as you are expressing your feelings. Record yourself so you can look back and reflect on how you felt in the moment.
Dream Journaling This one is pretty classic. If you are a dreamer, you can leave a notebook next to your bed and write down what you remember of your dreams when you wake up. Your brain catalogues and processes your memories while you are sleeping and sometimes your dreams can help you decipher how you feel about someone or something that happened to you.
Brain Dump involves writing out all the things your mind is thinking of in a given moment, usually in bullet list form. Doing an evening brain dump can help you clear your mind so it can rest. In the morning, a brain dump can help you visually organize your daily tasks, help with time management, focus, and efficiency. So, journaling can literally save you time!
Dialoguing is a good way to process a past memory or situation with another person, or even a way to ease anxiety over a future conversation. Dialoguing is when you write out both sides of a conversation as if you were the narrator in the story. Dialoguing may feel strange at first, but it can help you connect dots, look deeper into issues and gain clarity, resolve assumptions, and address how to move forward in relationships.
Perspective Journaling similar to dialoguing, except you are narrating a past experience from the perspective of 3 individuals. For example: if you are processing a childhood event you may write from the perspective of your childhood self, your parent, and another individual close to the situation. Perspectives may also span across time. So, you could write the perspective of your childhood self, current self, and future self as a way to process an event or trauma.
Audio Journaling Nearly any style of journaling can be done as an audio recording rather than writing. Audio journaling does give many processing benefits, but handwritten journaling is still the best way to activate your right brain.
Gratitude Journaling This one is pretty simple. Write down what you are thankful for or things that make you feel happy or content. This technique is not about minimizing challenges, but rather refocusing the brain and your attention to the good. You could write down 5 things once per day, or 1 thing twice per day (morning & evening). Whatever frequency you choose, the key with this one is consistency.
What is Going Well Journaling This differs from gratitude journaling because it focuses on daily events rather than things that already exist. This can be bullet points or paragraph style, simply summarize the good things that happened that day. Focusing on the positive rather than the negative in your day helps to lift burdens and shift your attitude. You may discover that your day wasn’t bad as a whole even if a few things went wrong. This is an excellent technique to combat negative filtering thought distortions.
Intuition Journaling Under great stress or in abusive relationships we can get out of touch with our intuition and begin to question our every decision… sometimes it feels like being “off-kilter” or “stuck”. Writing down questions and answering yourself with your gut reaction in a judgement-free space can help you get unstuck when making decisions. For example: you may ask yourself, “Is this relationship worth saving?” and your gut says, “Life is short, time to move on”.
Stream of Consciousness or Freewriting This technique can be especially good for those who are overly critical of themselves or get stuck in perfectionism. Stream of consciousness writing is all about just writing anything that comes to mind- the key is not stopping. Set a timer and keep writing until the timer goes off. Write without judgement even if it turns into an illegible scrawl. While writing, remind yourself that there isn’t a right or wrong- no matter how grammatically incorrect or indecipherable you think it is. Large notebooks work best for this technique in order to minimize page turning breaks.
Mentor Journaling Write about people who inspire you- either someone you know or someone you have never met. Write what inspires you and how you are taking those principles into your own life. You can even write a letter to this person and tell them how they are helping you become who you want to be. This is more future oriented (where unsent letter is more past or present focused).
Unsent Letter Journaling Write a letter to someone and don’t send it. Tell this person the things you wouldn’t or can’t say in person. This is a tool to process past trauma or even grief after a loss of a loved one. This exercise can help you gain clarity, closure, and release. Consider sharing this unsent letter with your trusted therapist.
5 “Why’s” Consider a statement, problem, or automatic thought response. Write it down, then below that write, “why?”. Answer the why question and ask yourself “why” again. Do this again and again until you have answered “why” five times. By repeatedly asking why you can easily peel the layers off the surface level that can lead to the root cause of a problem. You may be surprised by what you uncover. While 5 is the recommended number, sometimes you will need to ask 4, 6, or 7 whys before you unravel to the core issue of a problem. Simply stop when the useful responses stop coming.
I really do hope that as you read through that list of journaling techniques, something sparked your interest and you feel ready to tackle journaling.
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Remember, journaling does not replace the help of a trained therapist and sometimes we need help processing the things we uncover in journaling. If you think you need help, please be sure to contact us today and we can help get you scheduled with one of our 14 qualified and caring therapists.
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