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The Benefits of Journalling and How To Do It Effectively
November 16, 2018
The Benefits of Journalling and How To Do It Effectively
There’s a good reason we turned to our diaries to help us to cope with teenage angst – research has found that expressing emotions through journaling helps many to relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety and more.
In our current era of constant distraction, endless to-do lists, and limitless options, the ability to remain focused and calm is something that has to be actively worked on. Fortunately, there’s an excellent tool for mental health that most of us already grew up using and still have access to; journaling.
Although we tend to stop journaling once we’ve moved past our teenage angst, this form of writing therapy is just as necessary for mental health as we navigate through the ups and downs of adulthood.
The Powerful Benefits of Journaling
Our thoughts run at a mile a minute – when we write, however, our thought process is slowed down. Journaling forces us to take the time and identify our fears, isolate our problems, and pinpoint negative patterns as well as triggers. In a nutshell, writing thoughts out helps bring a wandering mind to attention, and allows us to organize them and put things in perspective. 
To date, research has been able to prove the following benefits to journaling:
Improves mood, perception of self and overall sense of wellbeing 
Helps improve physical and mental health after trauma 
Boosts immune cell activity and speeds healing after surgery  
Reduces symptoms of depression  
Improves memory and sleep  
Reduces viral load in HIV patients 
Reduces anxiety 
What Happens To Our Brains When We Journal?
According to Maul Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert, pen-and-paper writing activates the reticular activating system region (RAS) of the brain, which helps the brain to filter and focus on information. 
This is not only helpful for improving clarity, but it is also useful for writing down goals or aspirations. The RAS registers goals as important and then identifies relevant opportunities that can help bring you closer to them. The more detailed the goal, the greater the likelihood of achieving them.  
Purcell also suggests that journaling can allow creativity to flourish. As told to Fast Company, “writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain (the more creative side) is free to do what it does best, i.e. create, intuit and feel. In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”
Journaling via an online blog or through an app can be just as helpful. This carries similar benefits to traditional journaling by triggering a dopamine release, a chemical that helps regulate emotional responses and improve mood.  The Muse app allows you to document how you feel following each meditation you complete with Muse.
How To Keep A Journal
Journaling can take one of two main forms: free form, or more directed and structured. Although the latter is more often used by mental health practitioners to help their clients, elements from this approach can be taken and incorporated into anyone’s journaling practice.
Consider these guidelines from the Center for Journal Therapy: use the acronym WRITE 
W – what do you want to write about? Describe your feelings, thoughts and what’s happening in your life right now
R – reflect on it and take a few minutes to be still; you could do a few minutes of mindful meditation at this point to clarify how you feel
I -– investigate your emotions through writing and keep digging deeper to analyze it from all sides
T – time yourself to make sure that you write for at least five minutes about the particular topic or problem, to ensure you’re covering it thoroughly
E – exit with introspection; read what you have written and them sum up the key takeaway in a few sentences. For example, “As I read this I am aware that…” followed by a few action items or steps you would like to take next. (Adams, n.d.).
Journal Writing Prompts To Get You Started
If you don’t know what to write in a journal or find it difficult to get started, below are some journaling prompts that can help:
Keep a gratitude journal – simply write about people or aspects of your life that you’re grateful for. Topics could be as simple as gratitude for a loving partner or cuddles with your cat. Gratitude journaling has been shown to have extensive benefits such as making you friendlier and more open, increasing optimism, helping you make progress towards your goals, reducing physical pain and encouraging exercise.   
Self analysis – see this as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, instead of negative self-talk and criticism. Ask yourself questions such as, ‘why did I act a certain way?’, ‘what matters to me?’ or ‘what did I do right or wrong’ to improve self-awareness, figure out what’s holding you back and plan out your next steps.
Describe experiences – simply describe your day or an event that occurred; you may be surprised to find that along the way you have a lot more to say than you originally thought.
Get to the root of anxieties – write down all your anxieties to help put them in perspective. Often when we write them all down, we realize we’ve blown them out of proportion and most of them are irrational. For ones that are rational, put steps in place that can help counteract and soothe them.
Keep a log of your successes – this is handy to come back to when you’re feeling down on yourself and need a positive boost.
Pick a theme – journaling doesn’t have to just be about you, you can pick a topic that you love to write about like nature, sports, books, art, travel, music and more.
Tips For Make Journaling A Regular Practice
Similar to meditation, journaling is most effective if it’s done on a regular basis. To ensure that this actually happens, below are some of our top tips:
Make it simple – keep your journal on your bedside table as a reminder, or open up a note on your phone if that’s easier.
Make it a part of your morning or bedtime routine (or both) – this is an ideal time since there are little disturbances or tasks in the way. The morning is helpful for setting the right tone and intentions for the day, and the evening is a good time for reflection and winding down.
View it as ‘me time’ – grab a cup of tea, light a candle, put on some soothing music… Do what you need to do to look forward to journaling every day.
Don’t overthink it – write whatever feels right at that point in time. While structure and prompts are helpful, let the words flow freely without worrying about structure, or how it makes you sound (no one else will be reading it anyway!).
Take it slow – give yourself time to write as little or as much as you want that day, and make sure you leave enough time to sit with it and reflect afterwards.
Write in a private space – make sure you’re sitting in a quiet spot at home without distractions.
 Krpan, K., Kross, E., Berman, M., Deldin, P., Askren, M., & Jonides, J. (2013). An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 150(3), 1148-1151. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.05.065
 Emmons, R., & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal Of Personality & Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389. doi: 10.1037//0022-3522.214.171.1247
 Petrie, K., Fontanilla, I., Thomas, M., Booth, R., & Pennebaker, J. (2004). Effect of Written Emotional Expression on Immune Function in Patients With Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection: A Randomized Trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(2), 272-275. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000116782.49850.d3
 Smith, S., Anderson-Hanley, C., Langrock, A., & Compas, B. (2005). The effects of journaling for women with newly diagnosed breast cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 14(12), 1075-1082. doi: 10.1002/pon.912
 Seligman, M., Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421. doi: 10.1037/0003-066x.60.5.410