The Surprising Link Between Journaling and Mental Health
Written By: Matt Mignona
Journaling is more than mere record-keeping: it helps you set goals, organize your life, be more productive, and even improve your mental health. The therapeutic benefits of writing have been noted for decades; there's a reason journaling is used extensively in a variety of therapies and healing processes.
Writing helps clear your mind. It takes jumbled thoughts and gives them some order, bringing a measure of peace to what can otherwise feel chaotic and overwhelming. These are just a few of the ways journaling improves your mental health:
- Prioritize Concerns
- Examine Fears
- Track Symptoms and Triggers
- Identify Habitual Negative Behaviors
- Reduce Stress
- Manage Anxiety and Depression
In a therapeutic setting, journaling is often used to work through grief, trauma, loss, addiction, serious illness, relationship troubles, goal-setting, and more. However, you don't need a therapist to reap the benefits of journaling. You can start on your own—this is why and how:
The History of Journaling for Mental Health
In the 1960s, New York-based psychologist Dr. Ira Progoff started teaching journaling workshops based on a process he had been using with his clients. In 1975, he published a book, At a Journal Workshop, outlining his philosophy as well as the guidelines for how to practice his Intensive Journal Method. As more people grew interested in the benefits of journaling, Dr. Progoff expanded his teachings, and the method is still taught today even though its founder passed away in 1998.
More teachers emerged through the years with books on journaling you might find interesting and helpful:
- One to One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing by Christina Baldwin
- The New Diary by Tristine Rainer
- Journal to the Self: 22 Paths to Personal Growth by Kathleen Adams
Adams founded The Center for Journal Therapy in 1985. Her methods are taught by certified teachers around the world, and she has since published several more books on journaling.
Continued Research on the Power of Writing
Today, one of the leading researchers on the impact writing can have on mental and physical health is James Pennebaker, a psychologist, and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written hundreds of articles and several books on language and writing.
One such study discovered that the way we use language is a better predictor of our values than our own self-assessments and reports; another study demonstrates how our language patterns give insight to our personalities—perhaps even better insight than a personality questionnaire.
Those are fascinating studies, and the ideas presented there may help you identify patterns in your writing and your word choices that may, for example, pinpoint some negativity or stuck patterns in your life. Pennebaker has also authored or co-authored studies showing the benefits of writing about emotional experiences and how confronting past traumas, perhaps via writing, can improve your immune system. This research revealed that people who write expressively about their relationships are more likely to stay in those relationships.
These and other studies have indicated certain physical and mental health benefits related to the practice of writing:
- Reduced Symptoms
- Better Immune Function
- Improved Lung and Liver Function
- Improved Sleep Habits and Quality
- Lower Blood Pressure
- Enhanced Memory
All of these have an impact, direct or indirect, on mental health: when we have less stress in our lives (like the stress a health crisis or relationship issue might bring), we're happier, mentally healthier individuals.
Writing for Improved Health
There's no right or wrong way to journal: you simply have to find the way that works for you. This includes choosing the right time, place, method, and more. Think of it like any other good habit you want to develop: it takes time and commitment, but before long it will become a natural part of your day—especially as you start to experience some of the benefits.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started journaling:
- Download Our Quick Start Guide: This free resource breaks down the journaling process for you. Follow the steps for journaling made simple.
- Schedule It: Don't find time for journaling—make time for journaling. Schedule it into your morning and evening routine the way you schedule meetings, workouts, and more.
- Focus on Gratitude: Keeping a gratitude log is an easy way to start journaling. Simply write down a few things you're thankful for each day. It's a positive practice that helps you develop a daily writing habit, and it's enjoyable to reflect on the people and experiences you're most grateful for.
- Know There Are No Rules: Your journal doesn't have to look like anything in particular. No one will see it! Feel free to scribble, doodle, use messy handwriting, write nonsense words, or ignore the rules of grammar and punctuation.
- Keep It Positive: It can certainly be helpful to write down issues you're struggling with. If you're particularly angry at someone, you might write them a letter (that you don't even intend to send) where you're free to say everything that's bothering you. You might use your journal to outline the pros and cons of a decision, or express any fears you have about a medical procedure or a child's troubling behavior, for example. Still, save a part of your journal for positive reflection. Note your happiest and proudest moments. Note what you're grateful for. Note what you did well that day. Leave your journal feeling good.
- Set Goals: Writing your short- and long-term goals help hold you accountable to them, and by creating a to-do list of action steps, you'll be able to see why you are—or are not—succeeding in those endeavors. You'll feel more productive and accomplished when you take time to recognize the hard work you're doing every day.
- Use Some Guidelines: Some people like having a blank notebook; others prefer the structure of a journal designed to bring out the best in you. The Happier Mind Journal was created with your well-being in mind. The daily prompts keep you focused on what's important in your day and helps you avoid that, "I don't know what to write about" feeling.
What if journaling is the missing piece in your life? What if that simple practice could help you ease some of the overwhelm, anxiety, and discontent you're experiencing? Commit to it for 90 days and see if you notice improvements in your health and well-being.