A Beginner’s Guide To Journaling

What Is Journaling?

Journaling is the act of writing down your thoughts, feelings and experiences. It’s documenting your hopes, dreams, worries or wins. It’s taking the time to get your inner world down on paper. It’s also something that has helped me and many of my clients, so I’ve pulled together this ‘beginner’s guide to journaling’ to answer any questions you may have.

Why Journal?

Regular journaling is a form of self-care. Just like talking, writing things down – getting them out of your head and down on paper – can be both freeing and healing. Venting in this way helps you make sense of things. Thoughts lose their power when we release them, so the intensity of difficult emotions is often reduced. Ultimately, writing helps us create clarity and become more objective about what’s going on inside our heads.

The current popularity of journaling might make it seem like a new concept, but therapists have been recommending it for a long time. It’s well known that people who actively engage in journaling between sessions get far more out of the experience than those who don’t. This often results in improved recovery rates and fewer sessions required overall. Journaling is a great way to supercharge your treatment and achieve the best results. This is one of the main reasons I created The CBT Journal.

How Does Journaling Work?

Writing is a left-brain activity. This side of the brain likes thinking in words. It’s logical and analytical. Journaling fully engages the left-brain, freeing up the right-brain to deal with non-verbal cues, to intuit, and to tune into feelings. Both parts of the brain get to do what they’re best at, and they get to do it in tandem, allowing you to better understand what you’re thinking and feeling.

Taking this a step further, the physical act of writing things down increases focus and motivation, making it easier to achieve goals and form habits. If you think something and don’t write it down, you’re only engaging the right-brain. The mere act of putting those thoughts down on paper means your left-brain is on-board too.

The power of this whole-brain activity is that it taps into the subconscious mind, allowing you to see things differently and feel more confident about the steps you need to take to achieve the change you want in your life.

What are the Benefits?

The Social Psychologist Dr James Pennbaker has been measuring the outcomes of expressive writing since the 1980s. Through his research, he has discovered those who practice this technique may experience:

– Stronger immune health

– Better sleep habits

– Improved mental health

– Regulated blood pressure

– Reduction in pain caused by chronic diseases

Simply put, journaling makes us feel better. It leads to improved self-awareness, helping you gain clarity about the situations and things that cause you to react emotionally – whether in a good way or a bad way! It’s only once you have this awareness that you’re able to actively engage with the things that make you feel good and disengage from those that make you feel bad.

It also reduces stress. Writing down how you’re feeling and what’s causing you to feel that way helps release the intensity of these feelings. The emotional and subjective right-side of the brain is instantly able to share the weight of your worries with the logical, rational left-side.

You can read more about the benefits of journaling here.

How to Start

Knowing why you want to journal can help you find the motivation to start. It could be to reach a goal, to carve out some time for self-care, to understand your mind, gain clarity or work through a difficult emotion.

Once you know why, plan when you will start. Will you journal in the morning or evening? When do you have some spare time? I’d also recommend setting a date to review how you’re doing. Are you seeing some benefits? If not, you can switch things up, decide journaling is not for you or focus more on what you’re finding helpful.

People often tell me they don’t know what to write, but once they start, they find they can write a lot. It’s getting started that can be the problem. I’d encourage you to set a timer on your phone and write for ten minutes. See what comes naturally or use the following prompts:

– Today I’m feeling…

– Emotionally I’m feeling…

– I’ve been thinking a lot about…

– Some of the things on my mind are…

– Recently I’ve been…

– I’m starting this journal because…

Remember, it takes time to form a new habit. Show yourself compassion and don’t give up simply because you miss a day here and there.

Useful Links

What’s the Link Between Journaling and CBT?

How to Create a Journaling Habit

How to Get the Most Out of Your Journal

How to Use Your Journal During a Crisis

Ask the Therapist, Episode 25 – Writing for Your Wellbeing

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.