Research has shown that writing things down, or journaling, can be helpful in improving mood and outlook, and in processing difficult experiences.
Scared to jump into journaling because it feels like too much of a commitment? Feeling insecure about your writing skills? No need to fear; there’s no way to f*ck it up!
There are many types of journaling, and not all of them involve writing. Here are some of the most common, and some of the benefits to mental health and wellness.
Expressive writing or “classic” journaling: Writing whatever you want, whenever you feel compelled.
- Benefits: There is total freedom in how you approach it in terms of themes, structure, frequency, etc. It can offer thought and emotion processing.
- Drawbacks: Lacks structure or parameters, which can be hard for some people. Some feel a pressure to write volumes, or write consistently. Some feel pressure to have insight or “aha” moments. It may take more time than other forms of journaling, if you choose to write a lot.
- Mental Health: Can be helpful for depression, anxiety, trauma, and stress*.
Gratitude journaling: Recall and write down things that you are grateful for, or that went well during the day (typically 3-10 items per day).
- Benefits: Research shows recalling positive memories or things that you are grateful for can rewire the brain toward positivity (which is great, because humans have a negativity bias where we tend to see and focus disproportionately on things that are “wrong”).
- Drawbacks: It’s focusing on the positive, so there is less processing of difficult feelings or experiences. Daily (or mostly daily) consistency is needed to see longer-term results.
- Mental health: Shown it can help with mood, outlook, depression, anxiety, trauma, and stress*.
Art journaling: Create visual images to represent emotions, thoughts, experiences, ideas, reflections, dreams, quotes, etc.
- Benefits: Processing of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Creativity helps with stress reduction and is a mindfulness activity. No words needed! This type of journaling can help with “sensory processing,” not just “cognitive processing.”
- Drawbacks: Art may take longer than writing alone. Some may feel pressure to make something “good,” or may feel that they are not “creative enough.” (Spoiler alert: everyone is creative enough for this!) It might require supplies.
- Mental health: Can be helpful for mood, self-regulation, depression, anxiety, trauma, and stress*.
All-in-all, journaling of any kind can have a positive impact on our well-being. Create a digital journal if you prefer, or put pen to paper and get a break from the screen. If you start to journal and find yourself feeling upset or worse afterward, think about changing up your journaling technique, or reach out to a therapist. Sometimes journaling can become counterproductive if it causes us to hyper-focus or get stuck ruminating on our challenges and difficult experiences. It may also bring up events or “triggers,” where extra support is needed.
If you’re seeing a therapist (or thinking about it), journaling can add a lot to the therapy process as well! If you feel comfortable, let your therapist know you journal and ask about integrating it into your therapy process to help you meet your goals.
*While research supports journaling as a benefit to these areas of mental health, if you are dealing with anxiety, depression, trauma, or other stressors, reach out for assistance from a trained professional.