Struggling with stress, depression, or anxiety? Try journaling – get your thoughts out of your head and down on paper. It’s a simple, low-cost way of improving your mental health.
Keeping a journal can help you gain control of your emotions. Just writing it down helps you to process negative thoughts in a more analytical, non-emotional way, and then respond appropriately to them.
A study found that people with various medical conditions and anxiety who wrote online for 15 minutes, 3 days a week, for 12 weeks, had increased feelings of well-being and fewer depressive symptoms after 1 month. Their mental well-being continued to improve during the 12 weeks of journaling.
Journaling not only reduces anxiety and regulates your emotions, it helps you to understand difficult situations better, and encourages you to open up and seek support and this can help with emotional healing.
Journaling can help you learn more about yourself and handle things better. It helps you to:
- prioritise problems, fears, and concerns
- track symptoms daily so that you can recognise triggers and learn ways to better control them
- have positive self-talk and identify negative thoughts and behaviours
Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress.
To get the most benefits, you can also do the following:
- Relax and meditate each day.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get enough sleep.
- Stay away from alcohol and drugs.
Set aside a few minutes every day to write. You can write in a notebook, on random scraps of paper or even on your handphone. Don’t feel like writing? Try a voice memo.
Benefits of Journaling
Whether you’re dealing with stress from school, burnout from work, an illness, or anxiety, journaling can help in many ways:
- It can reduce your anxiety.Journaling about your feelings is linked to decreased mental distress.
- It helps with brooding.Writing about an emotional event can help you break away from the nonstop cycle of obsessively thinking and brooding over what happened – but the timing matters. Some studies show that writing about a traumatic event immediately after it happens may actually make you feel worse.
- It creates awareness.Writing down your feelings about a difficult situation can help you understand it better. The act of putting an experience into words and structure allows you to form new perceptions about events.
- It regulates emotions. Brain scans of people who wrote about their feelings showed that they were able to control their emotions better than those who wrote about a neutral experience. This study also found that writing about feelings in an abstract way was more calming than writing vividly.
- It encourages opening up.Writing privately about a stressful event could encourage some to reach out for social support. This can help with emotional healing.
- It boosts physical health.A study on 49 adults in New Zealand found that those who wrote for 20 minutes about their feelings on upsetting events healed faster after a biopsy than those who wrote about daily activities. Similarly, college students who wrote about stressful events were less likely to get sick compared to those who wrote about neutral topics like their room.
Women with breast cancer who wrote positively or expressively about their experience with the disease had fewer physical symptoms and fewer cancer-related medical appointments.
- Get creative.You might not be sure where to start with journaling or you might be reluctant if you’re not fond of writing. But journaling doesn’t have to be just about writing sentences. Try different formats. Write lists, make poetry, compose a song, write a letter, or draw some art.
- Start a gratitude journal.Giving thanks is good for your mental health. Research has shown that gratitude journaling promotes optimism, contentment, and overall well-being, leaving a lasting imprint on our mental health.
Start off by listing 3 things that you’re grateful for. These can be small things like a walk in the park, a delicious cup of coffee, or good weather. You can make a list or write full sentences. Details may help you relive the positive moments of your day. How did the sunshine feel on your face? What feelings did the smell of coffee bring?
– Edited excerpts from “Journaling for Mental Health” (University of Rochester Medical Center) and “Mental Health Benefits of Journaling” (Web MD, medically reviewed 25 October 2021)