The Benefits of Keeping a Journal - Island Thyme Soap Company

The Benefits of Keeping a Journal

Guest Blog Post By Aaron M. Coder MFA

The practice of keeping a personal journal or diary is a relatively new phenomenon within the scope of human history. While the earliest examples of written language are credited to the ancient Sumerians around 3400 BC in present-day Iraq, the cuneiform script they developed was used primarily for administrative record-keeping rather than personal expression. Examples of imaginative and poetic writing emerged soon after in parts of Asia and the Near East, but it wasn't until much later that people began writing down their everyday thoughts, feelings and observations as a disciplined daily practice.

One of the most well-known early diarists was Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, whose reflective journal entries, composed during a military campaign in the 2nd century AD, are still widely read under the celebrated title Meditations. Since then, many historical figures have had their personal writings published, including Charles Darwin, Marie Curie and Anne Frank, all of whom have contributed to our perspective of past events as well as a greater understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit.

While most of us shouldn’t expect to have our own diaries published to literary acclaim or serve as chronicles to key moments in history, the simple act of keeping a personal journal can have a number of surprising and even profound impacts on the quality of our lives.

Journaling Improves Emotional Well-Being

Increasingly, experts are embracing reflective or expressive writings as part of a wider regimen for maintaining mental health and even working through psychological trauma. In the 1960s, American psychologist Ira Progoff pioneered an intensive journal therapy method in which participants write down their innermost thoughts and feelings to then be integrated into a process of self-discovery and used to trace personal progress. Journal therapy has since been combined with other forms of therapy throughout the world to treat a wide range of conditions including post-traumatic stress, eating disorders and depression.

Fortunately, you don’t need to work with a therapist in a clinical setting to reap the psychological rewards of journaling. Along with some of the more obvious habits such as maintaining a good diet, meditating, exercising and getting enough sleep, regular journaling is thought to be an effective tool for managing the stress and anxiety we encounter in our everyday lives. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, “keeping a journal can help you identify what’s causing that stress or anxiety. And once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress.”

Gratitude Journaling - Cozy Cove Living Daily Hygge Gratitude Journal

A more specific type of reflective writing, gratitude journaling, has gained attention recently for its efficacy in promoting a sense of well-being and helping maintain a positive outlook during uncertain times. An article published by the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2022 says, “regular practice of gratitude, such as writing about things one is grateful for daily, may allow for a shift toward a positive cognitive style.” The study notes how participants in a gratitude writing intervention were better able to manage stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to control groups. It seems the simple act of acknowledging the positives in everyday life, no matter how trivial, can have a significant influence over the nature of our perceptions and how we process stressful or traumatic events.

Journaling and the Body

More surprising, perhaps, is the notion that journaling correlates to better physical health as well. However, considering the many ways that unmanaged stress can take a toll on our bodies, it’s easy to imagine how the therapeutic benefits of keeping a journal translate to improved physical well-being. Gratitude journaling, in particular, may prove beneficial to the body by helping to foster a positive mindset and improve the quality of sleep.

Journaling may also help patients manage pre-existing medical conditions. A number of studies have linked expressive writing practice to a variety of positive health outcomes. Participants with a wide range of conditions, from asthma to cystic fibrosis, have self-reported fewer and shorter hospital visits, reduced pain, and improved sleep. Improvements in certain measurable factors like blood pressure and immune function have also been linked to journaling. One possible explanation is that individuals predisposed toward conscientiousness — or the very traits needed to maintain a regimen of reflective writing — are also likely to engage in personal habits that foster good physical health.

Can Keeping a Journal Make You Smarter?

Keeping a journal won’t necessarily make you smarter, but it is thought to offer a number of cognitive benefits. Keeping a record of your daily activities begins with reflection which stimulates memory recall, while the simple act of writing in a journal forces you to organize your thoughts, which fosters analytic thinking. Students are often encouraged to keep a journal as a way to enhance self-confidence, boost critical thinking, strengthen communication skills and help keep track of goals. Included in a list of “10 Ways Journaling Benefits Students” are quantifiable gains in academic performance, including higher exam scores and improved grade-point averages. Regular writing also sharpens language skills and inspires creativity and personal growth.

How to Get Started with Journaling

While there are no set rules to journaling, there are some guidelines that can help you get started on the road to making journaling a regular part of your daily life.

Have a goal.

how to get started journaling - Daily Hygge Gratitude Journal

To make the most of a journaling practice, experts suggest starting with a clear purpose in mind, whether it’s to manage stress, express gratitude for the little things in life, record and monitor your daily activities or simply flex your creative muscles.

Next, choose a journaling medium that’s right for you.

You may prefer to write longhand in a physical journal or a simple notebook, or to type your entries in a word processor and publish them on your personal blog. The most important thing is to pick a format that you’ll look forward to working with every day. 

Find your journaling space.

Choose a location that’s comfortable and conducive to reflection, whether that’s the quiet privacy of your own home or in a public space with some background noise. Pick a spot where you’re unlikely to be interrupted while writing.

Be consistent.

Set aside a specific time of day (or night) dedicated to writing in your journal, and try to stick to a regular schedule. The goal is to make journaling a part of your regular routine. If you can’t write every day, pick two or three days per week, or even one day per week.

Lastly, have realistic expectations.

Just like with meditation, some people find it difficult to sit and focus on their journaling practice at first. But journaling should never feel like a chore. Start by writing for only ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Extend your writing sessions as the practice becomes more routine and natural. Don’t worry about producing a certain number of words or pages. Just make regular contact with your journal.

Aaron M Coder MFA

Aaron Coder is a writer and educator in Central Florida

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