How Journaling can help with Mental Health
“Your Journal is like your best friend, You don’t have to pretend with it, you can be honest and write exactly how you feel” Bukola Ogunwale
Can spending twenty minutes a day, three times a week writing about your personal thoughts, past-trauma and experiences really heal you? Help you with your mental health?
I was sceptical that journaling, or simply writing down your thoughts, can help make your life happier. It wasn’t until I was overwhelmed with project deadlines, family conflicts, and health problems that I had decided to give journaling a try.
Journaling and Science
Journaling, also known as writing therapy or expressive writing, is an act of transforming your feelings and thoughts about emotional experiences into words. When you do this, your physical and mental health often improves. Journaling is an accessible and much cheaper alternative compared to traditional methods because as long as you are literate and have a pen and paper, you can embark onto the healing journey.
In a study conducted by Joshua Smyth, Ph.D. of Syracuse University and other researchers, 107 asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients were split into 2 groups. The first group wrote about the most stressful event of their lives, and the second group wrote about neutral events. The result? Almost all the patients in the first group showed improvement on objective, clinical evaluations compared to the second group. 
An increasing number of studies have proved that journaling can reduce stress and anxiety. According to Dr. James W. Pennebaker, the chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas, Austin, people who had suppressed traumatic experiences might learn to move on once they’ve expressed emotions about it.
Science says there are several factors playing in this field. The act of thinking about an experience, the expression of emotions, and the construction of a story about a traumatic event plays different roles in helping people to regulate emotions, organize thoughts and give new meanings to past experiences. 
And journaling allows you to ‘open up’ about a traumatic event which then will lead you to discuss this difficult topic with others. Research suggest that the very act of writing about your experiences leads indirectly to further healing as you reach out for social support.
“Happiness is a state of mind” – Steven Webb
We often pigeon hole our experiences as either good or bad, being a top performing employee = good – you rip your trousers = bad. How you perceive the world influences the way you feel. Journaling gives you “emotional agility” – the opportunity to reflect on your perception which will change your feelings, which ultimately steer the state of mind towards happiness. 
For example, if while at work a colleague seems to ignore a simple request, our thoughts will often replay a variety of reasons why this colleague did this. As a manifestation of anxiety we might go through the scenario over and over again in greater detail, more than likely coming to a negative perspective beinng your actions at fault or possibly some hidden meaning that causes further anxiety. With journalling we can apply emotional agility by writing about the experience at work, and then writing about why this affected us so much. In this case, it might be because it is important to you that everyone you work with is open and happy, and the repeated thinking about this, shows your passion and thoughts for others. Through journaling about this experience, not only so we help ourselves NOW, but also for the future when we can digest our journals and see a possible repeated behaviour in ourselves. It will help you understand your own emotions when confronted with similar situations in the future.
Here are three things that you need to know before you start journaling. Its always worthwhile starting ‘light’ and slowly opening up rather than diving straight in and unloading – I say this based on experience!
1 Like I’ve mentioned before, the journaling here isn’t like writing a diary. To achieve different benefits, they have their own journaling process, which means the journaling process to heal or to become happier are not the same.
2 Most people stopped journaling after a few months because they didn’t see any results. And why there are no results? The way they write couldn’t help them achieve what they want.
3 Journaling works best only if done consistently over time. Journaling takes time and consistency to reach full bloom, if you don’t have the right mindset and techniques in your arsenal, 99% you’ll give up journaling in 3 days.
In the second part, “A Guide to Journaling (Pt 2 or 2)”, you’ll gain access to a step-by-step guide for total beginners and a practical journaling guide that you download and use right away. Plus a few hacks to get journaling installed as your habit. If you’re feeling courageous, take on our 90-day Journaling Challenge here and prove to yourself!
- Ewa Kacewicz, Richard Slatcher, James W. Pennebaker, “Expressive Writing: An Alternative to Traditional Methods,” December 2006, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227206033_Expressive_Writing_An_Alternative_to_Traditional_Methods
- Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D., “Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma” https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/writing-about-emotions-may-ease-stress-and-trauma
- Megan C. Hayes, “Write Yourself Happy: The Art of Positive Journalling,” Aug 2, 2018, https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1856753824/ref=as_li_qf_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=suskyme-21&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=1856753824&linkId=4fc4666db2d685df0078bfd5c48fbd9c
- Susanna Newsonen MAPP, “5 Ways to Journal Your Way to Happiness,” Sep 26, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-path-passionate-happiness/201809/5-ways-journal-your-way-happiness
- Photos by Hannah Jacobson and Allef Vinicius on Unsplash