Therapeutic Benefits of Keeping a Journal

Girl writing in a journal

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Diaries and journals are written for a variety of different reasons. Historically, journal entries were intended to serve as written records. It is much easier to track a past event if you have a written record of your appointments and activities. Trial lawyers love clients and witnesses who keep journals and datebooks because it frees them of hours/days of investigation. Where were you on September 15, 1999? A diary could come in handy to jolt your memory, right?

A Form of Therapy

Writing down your thoughts and feelings is a therapeutic activity. Paper and pen are the tools for your creative expression, joys, and sorrows alike. Journaling can be a healing process to help you get in touch with your deepest yearnings, find resolve for problems, and deal with personal issues. Whatever type of painful emotion you are experiencing (grief, sadness, fear, isolation, etc.) expressing yourself in writing can help ease your discomfort.

Drains Brain of Mindless Clutter

Getting words down on paper can help clear your head of thoughts and ideas that are creating a mental swirl of confusion. Something as simple as keeping a grocery list can help free up the activity center of your brain, making room for clearer thinking.

Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist's Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, suggests a writing exercise she calls "The Morning Papers." Take three sheets of paper each day and with a pen or pencil just start writing. This process is intended to allow a "stream-of-consciousness." It doesn't matter what words or phrases you write down. It doesn't matter if your sentence structure or grammar is poor. Never mind misspellings. It doesn't matter. The Morning Papers, unlike journals, are not for keeping... they are not to be read at all. After you've finished the writing exercise feed your papers directly into the paper shredder or toss them inside the recycle bin. The purpose of doing this exercise is to clear your brain of mindless clutter and discharge any emotional baggage connected to useless or negative thoughts, or in Julia's words, it is a "brain-drain" activity.

In her creativity workshops, Julia teaches how we block our creative selves by not releasing our anger, our worries, our criticisms, etc. Things that block our creative juices flowing to the surface need an outlet. Writing can be used as a venting tool to rid yourself of negative thinking.

Keeping a Gratitude Journal

It is easy to get caught up in complaining or whining when things go awry. Starting up a gratitude journal is one way to begin focusing on positives and stop the bad habit of negative thinking. Begin by choosing a time you can devote to "being grateful" each day, a time when you can jot down something that makes you happy or joyful. First thing in the morning or at bedtime works for most people. But if you routinely ride the subway or bus to work journaling might be a good way for you to spend your commute. If you find it difficult to write an "essay style" gratitude journal, that's okay. Creating a list of five or ten things you are grateful for each day will fill out the pages nicely. 

Example of a Daily Gratitude List

  • Sunshine.
  • Smile from the girl at the bank.
  • My cat purring.
  • My boss taking today day off!
  • Phone call from my sister.
  • Funny movie.
  • Leftovers!
  • Time to reflect on positives in my life.
  • No bills in the mail today.
  • My Facebook friends.

Other Types of Journals

  • Daily diary - Writing a daily journal is one way to balance your emotional ups and downs. It is also an excellent way to communicate with your inner self.
  • Dream diary - Scenarios and symbology experienced during slumber have special meanings. Record your dreams first thing in the morning while they are still fresh in your mind. Self-analysis will come later when you have the time to explore the scribblings in your dream diary. Writing out the details can help you interpret the meanings of your dreams.
  • Food diary - If you are counting calories or tracking emotional triggers to overeating, keeping a diary of your dietary consumption along with your emotional fluxes could benefit you in learning how to live better and eat healthier. Keeping a food diary will help you connect the dots between your emotions and the foods you eat. At first, it may seem like a daunting task to maintain a food diary. But in the long run, it will help you stay focused if you are dieting or avoiding food triggers. Be sure to write how you feel as you progress. Tying your emotions to your consumption in the food diary will most likely begin to reveal things about yourself that you would not have realized otherwise. In general, people who are overweight are often emotional eaters. For the emotional eater, keeping a food diary will help him better understand why he overeats and also what triggers him to eat at times when he logically knows he shouldn't.
  • Observance journal - Rose De Dan, Animal Reiki Shaman, suggests keeping an observance journal of your communications with animals in the wild, noting their behaviors, your insights, etc. Rose says "Listen with your heart, observe with your eyes, feel with your body"
  • Travel log - Jotting down your vacation highlights as you experience new places and different cultures will keep these special adventures alive forever.
  • Memories journal - Writing down stories about your childhood makes for a good keepsake to pass down to your children, grandchildren, and to be cherished by generations to come. While you're at it, write down the stories told to you by your parents and grandparents. So many stories, so little time. Write them down before they are lost forever.