August 8, 2023

The Benefits of Journaling for Mental Health

By Jennifer Hu
Identity Development
Mental Health & Wellbeing

I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. From the days of my Powerpuff Girls diary in second grade, filled with neon pink gel pen entries, to the regular journaling I embraced in college and beyond.  Since then, I’ve lost track of how many notebooks I’ve gone through. Writing has been an integral part of my life, offering relief, clarity, and a way to process my experiences even before I had the words to fully understand them. It is a way to get everything in my head down on paper. Through writing, I’ve seen the challenges I was going through in a different light.

What are the benefits of writing?

Even though it seems so simple, journaling has a profound impact on our mental and emotional health. Writing provides an opportunity to witness our own personal growth and understanding. Through writing, we gain a clearer understanding of our thoughts and feelings.

Our minds move so quickly. They do a wonderful job of generating hundreds and thousands of thoughts all day long, whether automatic or something more intentionally thought out. What should I wear? Did I set my alarm correctly? I wonder what he meant by that statement. This stoplight is taking forever. Why is that person walking so slowly?

Amidst this constant mental chatter, journaling offers a chance to slow down and focus on one word, one sentence at a time. Slowing down brings clarity and a much-needed pause to the fast-paced rhythm of our minds. It forces us to engage in mindful thinking, breaking free from the overwhelming knot of thoughts all at once. Writing becomes a powerful act of protest against the relentless speed of the world, inviting us to fully embrace and engage with the present moment.

Writing can help you to understand yourself more clearly when you go back and read what you wrote. Themes begin to emerge. You might reflect on how you handled past challenges and what worked or didn’t work in the past. One of my favorite benefits of writing is that you can see how you’re growing and changing as you look back and read past entries. You might even be shocked that you wrote what you did or used a certain phrase or word to describe your experiences.

Here are a few points to consider as we look at how to journal practically:

Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. Rather, the goal is to be imperfect. You don’t have to write in complete sentences or paragraphs. It doesn’t have to look any certain way. It can be stream of consciousness, or it can be a few bullet points. It can be as short as a few sentences and as long as a few pages.

It can be on your phone notes app or your computer. You don’t have to write with pen and paper. However, while you can use your phone’s notes app or a laptop, consider the benefits of writing by hand. The act of physically writing slows down our thoughts. We can’t write as fast as our minds race, and that’s precisely the goal of writing the old-fashioned way. Slowing down our thinking allows us to look at what we’re going through with a new lens, a new perspective.

Write first thing in the morning before looking at your phone, email, or checking social media. It’s my personal belief and a practice I strive to follow, although I admit it’s not always perfect.  I feel that taking this time to look within, to connect with what’s on our hearts and minds before checking other media, is a rare and sacred opportunity to check in with ourselves. Honor what is coming up for you before tending to the day’s needs. The distractions and the news can wait. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes, the time is yours and yours alone. It might be the only time in the day that completely belongs to you.

What can you write about?

Here are some prompts that can help you start your journaling practice. You don’t have to stick to any of these prompts, but feel free to borrow any of them if they stand out or seem interesting:

  • What is the state of your heart, mind, soul, and body?
  • What’s something that has been saving your life recently? What is helping you get through each day?
  • What would make today meaningful?
  • Write a letter to a younger you from 1 year ago or a younger version of you – what would you tell yourself?
  • Write a letter to future you – what would you say to an older version of yourself?
  • What’s working in my life?
  • What’s not working?
  • What am I thankful for?
  • Anything that comes to mind – stream of consciousness.
  • Name how you feel.
  • What’s on your heart?
  • What’s on your mind?
  • Write about a past memory
  • Write a letter to someone you miss or used to be close to. You can give them the letter if you wish.
  • What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Remember, journaling is a personal practice, and there are no right or wrong answers. Let your journal be a safe space to explore your innermost thoughts and emotions. Embrace the benefits of writing as you embark on this enriching journey of self-discovery.

Written By

Jennifer Hu

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