How keeping a journal can make your life better.
How much noise is in your head right now? Is there an unending list of things you need to do and people you need to call? Does the pure volume of information you are thinking about overwhelm you?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you should be keeping a journal. In fact, everyone should.
Now before you scoff with images of “Dear Diary…” in your head, give me a chance to explain. Let me show you how journaling is an essential tool for a healthy mind.
What Is Journaling?
Perhaps when you think of journaling, you picture a teenager hunched down on their bed writing in a little book with a small lock and key. It’s true that for young ones, keeping a diary is a great way to work out the problems of growing up.
As a teen, writing in a journal is a safe place to work out anger against your parents, secret crushes, things that scare you that you don’t want to talk about, and all the confusion that comes with ever-changing hormones.
Yet, that value doesn’t stop just because you grow up. It’s my opinion that the benefits of journaling only increase with time.
Before I go on, I want you to know that my purpose in writing this story is not just about getting claps, follows, and shares. While I would love all of those things, this is a subject that I am passionate about.
Personally, I have kept a journal since November of 1983. If you’re a young person reading this, I know, that makes me ancient. Trust me, it doesn’t seem possible that I’ve carried on this tradition for more than 35 years.
My journals have been my only true and constant companion. No matter what else has happened in my life, from a mental illness diagnosis, a rare chronic illness, or the start and end of serious relationships, my written friend has been the stability and anchor that has kept me on track.
Here are five ways that journaling can help you as well.
1. Brain Drain
Your brain is a marvelous organ. In it, you have your own private universe. It’s a place where you spend your entire life. You may even have conversations with the voices that manifest themselves there.
However, it’s a place that sometimes gets too crowded. When that happens, the internal noise from life can become overwhelming. That overwhelm can then spill over into the real world and cause stress.
Journaling is a way to quiet that noise and ease that anxiety.
There’s an excellent book for writers, well, for anyone really, called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It recommends that everyone should write morning pages. What are morning pages? I’m glad you asked.
As the book spells out, morning pages are three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. While you can start with “Dear Diary,” you definitely don’t have to. The point is to write and to fill up three pages.
The words don’t matter. You could write a grocery list, your top ten pet peeves, what you think that smell is coming from the kitchen, or anything else. There have been times when my first page is simply one word written over and over and over again.
This kind of writing is like clearing a cache on an electronic device. Useless information that is taking up memory is released, and that leaves you free to concentrate on the important things.
Stream-of-consciousness writing isn’t about content but rather the act of writing. Don’t worry about writing full sentences or even complete thoughts.
Write every word that comes to your mind. If there is a tsunami of words, write the loudest ones first. There is a reason why those words are there. Write them down and see where they lead.
2. Some Things Shouldn’t be Said
The second reason why you should be journaling is that there are some things that you shouldn’t say out loud. For example, the fact that your boss is being an absolute jerk is not something you should probably tell him.
Words to your employer aren’t the only dangerous ones that should be kept to yourself. In fits of anger, there may be hurtful things you want to say to your partner, your kids, your parents, or the woman walking past you on the street.
Keeping a journal gives you a safe place to say those words. Fill its pages with the tirade you wish you could launch against your boss. Say the things that a mother never should think about her kids, but yet you sometimes do. Write about how much you hated dinner last night or what you really think of your wife’s new dress.
Getting these words out in a safe environment will keep them from festering and from exploding out at the worst possible time. Save those around you from harm by telling your journal the things you know you shouldn’t say out loud.
3. Journaling Can Reveal Trends
The gift I have from 35 years of journaling is the ability to see various trends in my life. This is important for managing my bipolar but was also helpful when it came to getting diagnosed with a rare disease.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Familial Mediterranean Fever. Short story, it’s an auto-inflammatory, genetic condition that causes fevers, inflammation, and lots of pain.
It took years of doctor visits and medical testing before I received a diagnosis. Near the end, I was almost sure that the fevers and persistent flu-like symptoms were in my head.
Finally, though, I found an internist who was willing to take the time to really look at my history and listen to what I was saying. In fact, he took my medical chart home with him and spent an entire weekend going over it and the information I had given him.
Though at the time I wasn’t keeping a health journal, the notes I had written down did show distinct trends in the occurrence of fevers, what foods caused increased nausea, and what activities made me feel worse.
All of that information helped my internist to figure out my medical mystery. Keeping a journal can do the same for you.
Hopefully, you aren’t in the process of trying to diagnose an obscure health condition, but there are other areas of your life where seeing trends could be helpful. It could be your relationships, work performance, kids’ behavior, or any number of other things. You never know what your journal might reveal.
4. Your Own Personal Therapist
Everyone should be in talk-therapy at least once in their lifetime. Getting to talk out the things in your head with a trusted guide can change your life.
Unfortunately, with today’s healthcare climate, many people don’t have access to this helpful option. My current health insurance doesn’t cover it, and my income in no way allows me to pay out-of-pocket for a therapist.
On sale, you can pick up a notebook for about $1. A package of cheap pens will cost the same, or you can steal a pen from the bank, though I’m not an advocate for stealing.
While you won’t get the guidance that a good therapist can give you, taking the time to express what’s in your head can help you to sort it out.
Even if you can see a therapist, you can’t possibly cover everything in your sessions with them. At only one or two hours a week, there’s a whole lot of life to be lived outside of those meetings. Keeping a journal helps you to work on your issues.
There are lots of topics that didn’t get completely covered in my therapy subjects. Additionally, growing older has changed my perspective on some things and altered the way they affect me.
Writing down my thoughts has helped me to make sense of and work through a lot of painful things, including childhood sexual abuse and the sudden death of the person I loved most. There are probably many things that journaling could help you work through as well.
5. Release Your Creativity
The fifth way that journaling is beneficial is in releasing your creativity. For scribes, this often refers to writer’s block.
I first purchased Julia Cameron’s book because I was struggling with a particularly tricky creative block. No matter what I tried, I had reached a wall that I just couldn’t seem to get past.
In her book, she talks about how she has helped artists, actors, writers, and many others with her process. I was a bit skeptical but decided to give the morning pages a try.
It took me a couple of days, but faithfully writing my morning pages did release my inner block. Now, years later, I still try to do my morning pages, even if I don’t have time to write them in the morning. When I do, there never is a problem with my other writing.
You will likewise find your creative juices flowing by keeping a journal. You may not be a writer or artist, but all of our lives are improved by creativity. Give it a try and see what you can do with yours.
No One, Including You, Ever Has to Read It
It will be no surprise when I tell you that many of my closest friends like to keep journals. Whether I have helped inspire them or not, I don’t know, but we all find our own comfort through writing our words down.
I have one friend who has a ritual she goes through every time she fills a notebook. She plans some time alone for herself, goes out alone to the backfield of her property, and burns its pages. She says the entire process is absolutely freeing and cathartic.
Personally, I find value in keeping my journals, especially for finding trends, as I mentioned above. However, you may worry about someone finding and reading your words, or that those books might be left behind after you are gone. Does that mean you shouldn’t journal?
Remember, it’s your journal and should be used in whatever way is best for you. No one ever has to read the words you write, including you. You can even destroy every page as soon as you write it.
Another friend keeps her journal in Word documents. When she’s done writing for the day, she deletes everything. The value in journaling is getting the words out, not necessarily in keeping them.
To wrap up, let’s review how journaling can help you.
- Help clear your mind
- Say the things that shouldn’t be said out loud
- Notice trends in your life
- Work out your problems
- Free your creativity
There are many other benefits from journaling that you will discover if you give it a try. For the next thirty days, make it a practice to journal every day, and see what benefits you find.
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