(Image from: Medium.com)
As a therapist I suggest journaling often. Now before you roll your eyes… or if you have… I can wait…
Journaling in a tool for introspection. What is introspection? It is [the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes]. In short, it is how we examine ourselves emotionally. It’s how we perform our own analysis of the things we feel, the things we are wrestling with, and finding the meat of who we are and what we think. Journaling is a tool for reflection. It is a way of exploring the way we feel but truly… making the intangible thing… the thing we can’t feel with our hands or see with our own eyes, tangible. Journaling helps you process your emotions to help your mental and physical health- yes, physical health, because our emotions and our bodies are connected and influence each other.
According to Psychology Today, writing can strengthen your immune system, lower your blood pressure, and improve your lung and liver function. It can also reduce depression and improve your emotional health as you work through problems on paper. It can support recovery from addiction by providing a positive behavior and replacing the previous old or unhealthy behavior. It is a way for planning ahead, processing the past, having a conversation with yourself or exploring questions that are stumping progress or your ability to get to know yourself. It helps track patterns and growth over time. It is a way of getting in touch with your left brain to analyze and to allow for your right brain to create. It helps to get to know and understand yourself more, to process and understand and explore emotions better and deeper, reduce stress, clarify thoughts and feelings, problem solve, and is a step to resolving interpersonal conflicts with others. It is a place to be self aware, not self-critical.
Where Do I Start?
You don’t need to write in a classic journal or diary or notebook (although I find that this, the putting pen to paper, helps me process things better). There are online journal options where you can create a username and password or pull up your word or notes section on your computer. Whatever works best for YOU. There are other forms of journaling out there, including bullet journaling, art journaling, etc. Explore what feels best for you. If it’s a few words, great. If its bullet points, awesome. If it’s a stream of thoughts- way to go. Whatever works and feels best to you is the way to go.
Write for 10-20 minutes. Your journal should be a private place for you to write and not feel as if you need to sensor yourself. Write quickly- sort of like “word vomiting” onto a page. Just get it out. Don’t worry about whether you should or shouldn’t …. Your feelings are valid and are telling you something so allow for them to be there, explore them instead of ruminating on them.
Not sure what to write? No worries. Pinterest has loads of options for journal prompts for those just starting off. Anything from self-discovery questions, to journaling tips for anxiety, depression or self-esteem.
Ask. Dig. Explore.
If you are wrestling with something very specific but don’t know where to start, write out a question. “Why am I so angry with my best friend?” Answer it. Ask another question. Answer it. Write how that answer makes you feel. Why? Sometimes that’s all we need to unlock that stuckness. Ask more questions to open up more doors. Get deeper. What does this remind me of? Why is this a big deal to me? What am I afraid this will do for my future? Is this what I want? Why do I stay when I am so unhappy? What you may notice in journaling is that it feels almost circular. It goes back to the feeling or the starting point, but as you journal and get deeper the circle gets bigger and wider giving you a sense of what is really happening. Whether it’s more to the issue than what you thought or deeper issues that are arising from this event… explore it. It is a way of exploring your dreams, your interests, what you want for your future, where you are struggling in your marriage, where you find strength in yourself. It organizes the clutter of our thoughts and feelings by our sorting through the mess.
Journaling is one of the cheapest forms of therapy, which is why I ask people I sit with to journal. Because one hour of your life sitting with me isn’t going to get you to your goal alone. The work happens outside of therapy, whether it’s in behavior changes, self-exploration or self-care. Journaling helps maximize the benefits of therapy… I mean… we are already paying a fee, what if we could get more for our money? That’s exactly it. It extends therapy beyond the last session. More for your money. More opportunities for introspection and growth. FREE THERAPY! And as a therapist, it helps me help you better too.
Try it out for a few months- if not daily a couple times per week and explore the benefits you find in journaling.