By Catherine Gregory
Looking for a way to de-stress that has the added benefit of deepening self-awareness? The answer is right at your fingertips—and besides the cost of pen and paper, it’s free. Keeping a journal isn’t just about tracking the events of your day; it has mental health benefits too, including releasing emotional overwhelm and increasing clarity, intuition and self-esteem.
The writer Paulo Coelho said, “Tears are words that need to be written.” Perhaps that’s why psychotherapists and counselors frequently recommend journaling to their patients as a safe way to process emotions. Taking time to write about your experiences and feelings also sheds light on patterns and cycles, bringing more awareness to your behaviors, perceptions and attitudes. And awareness is the first step toward creating positive change.
But what if the thought of writing makes you cringe? Even if you’re not a “writer,” the following tips can help anyone begin the life-enhancing practice of journaling.
Practice Not Perfection
According to Kathleen Adams, author of Journal to the Self, the practice of journaling doesn’t require expert writing skills. No need for perfect punctuation or grammar or eloquent prose. Journaling isn’t about the final “product”; it’s about the “process.” Start writing and keep your pen moving until there’s a natural pause and you feel finished with that train of thought. This stream-of-consciousness approach to writing clears out the mental cobwebs and awakens your intuition, often bringing clarity and insight to important issues in your life.
A Habit of the Heart
Make time for journaling each day, even if it’s just 15–20 minutes. Try to write at the same time every day, which helps to make it a habit. Find a pen you love and a journal cover that inspires you. There are plenty of journaling apps too, but the practice of using pen on paper inspires creative insight and gives you a nice break from screens. If you’re worried that someone may read your journal, you can always tear out your entries and either burn or shred them. Sometimes that extra step helps to ritualize the release of pent-up emotions or other burdens.
Prompts to Get in the Flow
To get the most out of your journaling time, Adams recommends starting with a meditation or quieting technique, being completely truthful with yourself and writing in your own voice, as naturally as possible. If you’re not sure where to start, the following questions can help. Take time to explore one idea at a time.
- When I make a mistake or someone criticizes me, I often feel _____ because I tell myself _____.
- What can I learn from my biggest mistakes?
- What is challenging me most at this time? What is the next step to take?
- What past challenge was really a gift in disguise? Why?
- If I knew I could not fail, I would _____.
- I feel most joy in my life when _____.
- When I ask myself “What’s not wrong?” here are my answers.
Cultivating a Gratitude Attitude
Some people choose to keep a journal specifically focused on what they are grateful for in their lives. Gratitude writing can shift a negative outlook fast and helps you stay focused on what matters most. No matter what you choose to write about, journaling is like having a free therapist on hand 24-7. So pour yourself a cup of tea, cozy up in your favorite chair and get your pen moving. You’re worth it.