I’ve always been a “practice what you preach” kind of person, especially now that I’m a counselor. Of all the suggestions I make for self-care, tracking emotions, coping strategies, and processing, the one that comes up the most is, without a doubt, journaling.
I’ve been keeping a journal since I was in sixth grade in every imaginable form—starting with spiral composition notebooks, graduating to leather-bound blank books, transitioning to digital with Notes on my phone, and my current go-to: the Day One journaling app (not sponsored, but highly recommend). No matter the vessel; it’s the act itself that holds the therapeutic power.
Understanding Journaling as a Therapeutic Tool
Journaling is not merely an act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keys, but rather, a deliberate and structured means of self-expression. As a counselor, I often recommend journaling to my clients as a supplementary tool to traditional therapy sessions. This practice enables individuals to explore their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a safe and private space, facilitating self-reflection and personal growth. Here are just a few of the major benefits I have experienced first-hand.
- Emotional Regulation
Through the act of writing, you can externalize and process your emotions, making it easier to identify patterns, triggers, and underlying issues. This self-awareness allows for better emotional regulation as you gain insight into the root causes of your feelings and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
- Stress Reduction
By documenting daily stressors, you can release pent-up tension and anxiety, preventing the accumulation of negative emotions. Expressive writing has been shown to lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone, leading to a calmer and more relaxed state of mind.
- Self-Exploration and Insight
By delving into your thoughts and experiences, you can gain valuable insights into your own beliefs, values, and goals. This process of self-discovery fosters a deeper understanding of yourself, paving the way for personal growth and development.
- Problem Solving and Goal Setting
When faced with challenges, you can use your journal to brainstorm solutions, evaluate different perspectives, and set achievable goals. This process not only enhances problem-solving skills but also empowers you to take proactive steps toward positive change.
- Gratitude Practice
Regularly acknowledging and documenting positive aspects of life cultivates a mindset of gratitude, shifting the focus from what is lacking to what is present. This practice has been linked to increased happiness, improved mood, and a more optimistic outlook on life.
My Personal Journaling Practice
There have been periods of time when I’ve journaled every single day, and others during which I’ve gone weeks without writing a word. The moment I start to feel disconnected from myself or overwhelmed with my inner thoughts, I know I need to get back to journaling regularly.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was invited to participate in the Citizen Scientist Journaling Project through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and it was incredibly impactful not only to journal throughout those “unprecedented times”, but to regularly discuss the process and its effects with the other citizen scientists and researchers conducting the project.
One of my favorite journaling practices is writing “morning pages”, which I first learned about when reading the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This is a stream of consciousness approach done first thing in the morning, with the goal of filling 3 pages. It’s an extremely effective way to clear your mind of clutter and prepare for work or activities that require high levels of focus.
Journaling does not have to be a structured or formal undertaking, and that’s why it works so well for so many different types of people. I will continue to do it myself, recommend it as an auxiliary tool for counseling clients, and further explore how it can increase our mental health. What have your experiences been with journaling? If you’re willing to share, I would love to hear from you.
With respect and encouragement,