Keeping a journal isn’t necessarily like keeping a diary. Journalling is a more free form of writing — less about recording events, more about externalising feelings. It’s a chance to be reflective, go deeper with your own thoughts. It’s also a place to share what’s exciting you, interesting you, scaring you — taking it out of your head and getting it onto paper. Journalling takes a little of your time but there are definite benefits to journalling.
Writing by hand, in a paper journal, slows you down, allows you to really think and also ensures you keep off screens and distractions. So we thought we’d share just five of the benefits of journalling to help get you started.
Five benefits of journalling
1. Writing regularly in a journal can make you a better writer
Writing teachers encourage budding scribes to write a little every day. Even if you’re not interested in being ‘a writer’ many of us need to write as part of our work and study. So improving your writing — through stretching your vocabulary to practicing being understood (if only by yourself) is a skill many of us could benefit from.
A journal is an ideal place to practice writing and offers a safe place to try new writing techniques. It gets you into the habit of putting thoughts into words, practising expression and exploring motivations. Many great writers espouse the value of keeping a journal, from Franz Kaska, Virginia Woolf and C.S. Lewis, to name a few.
2. Journalling helps teach ‘the elusive art of solitude’
Hemingway believed that solitude was essential for creative work and it’s both true and unnerving for many. Being ‘alone’ has negative connotations for us social animals!
Some among us really struggle to be alone, particularly with the constant siren call of social media. Yet spending time alone and reflecting on your thoughts and experiences is something that we inherently know to be a worthwhile pursuit, at least some of the time. Journalling lends some structure to ‘alone time’ — giving you the company of your thoughts and feelings.
3. Journalling can actually boost your immunity
Psychologists James Pennebaker, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin, and Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University have undertaken research that suggests that writing about emotions and stress can boost immune functioning in patients with such illnesses as HIV/AIDS, asthma and arthritis.
A groundbreaking study of writing’s physical effects appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 281, No. 14) three years ago. In the study, led by Smyth, 107 asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients wrote for 20 minutes on each of three consecutive days — 71 of them about the most stressful event of their lives and the rest about the emotionally neutral subject of their daily plans.
Four months after the writing exercise, 70 patients in the stressful-writing group showed improvement on objective, clinical evaluations compared with 37 of the control patients.
In a more recent study, Pennebaker, Keith Petrie, PhD, and others at the University of Auckland in New Zealand found a similar pattern among HIV/AIDS patients. The researchers asked 37 patients in four 30-minute sessions to write about negative life experiences or about their daily schedules. Afterward, patients who wrote about life experiences measured higher on immune functioning immediately after, although the events weren’t permanent.
“By writing, you put some structure and organisation to those anxious feelings,” Pennebaker explains. “It helps you to get past them.”
4. Journalling can help keep you focus on what you want
Our daily lives are often packed with things we have to do — work, study, cleaning, family obligations and more. Journalling is about dedicating a few minutes each day to honour yourself, your thoughts and your feelings. It can help remind you who you are, what you want and whether you’re living your life as the kind of person you want to be. It’s also a great chance to practice a spot of gratitude and remind yourself how good your life really is, even when the little things sometimes get you down.
5. A journal can be an idea-incubator and dream catcher
Ideas can be fleeting and dreams can feel unreal and unachievable. But the act of writing them down, exploring them, can help give them shape and bring them to life. So a journal can act an idea incubator and a dream catcher. You can work plans through in writing, evaluate them, spend time considering them fully. You can capture fleeting thoughts and passions and determine what’s there to last.
In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could do to any person; I create myself.
So how do you start journalling?
Here’s a great quick guide on how to start a journal. And here’s a great post on journalling prompts if you’re not sure what to start writing about. Finally, you’ll need a great notebook and pen…and we might happen to know where you can find these!