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The benefits of journaling

The benefits of journaling

Journaling. Everybody’s talking about it. A lot of people are doing it. But you aren’t even entirely sure what it is; surely not just writing ‘things’ down? How on earth could that be of benefit to you and why on earth should you set aside the time to do it when your ‘to do’ list is already a never-ending story?

 

Well, it’s precisely the fact that you don’t have enough time to complete all the things on your list, that means you need to bump journaling to the top and make it a priority. Because chances are that you are feeling at least a little stressed and probably pretty overwhelmed. And, funnily enough, journaling can help with both of these feelings. It is an incredible tool for reflection. It is cathartic. It helps to provide focus and clarity. And, ultimately, it has a positive impact on both mental and physical well being.

 

Here comes the science bit

Writing is a left-brain activity; this side of the brain likes thinking in words. It is logical and analytical and likes order. Journaling fully engages the left-brain – and that frees 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 are best at, and they get to do it in tandem; allowing you to better understand what you are thinking and feeling.

Taking this a step further, the actual act of writing things down hugely increases focus and motivation, ultimately resulting in higher success rates in goal achievement and habit setting. If you just think something and don’t write it down, you’re only engaging the right-brain. However, the mere act of putting those words onto paper means that the left-brain is suddenly on-board too and the power of whole-brain activity is that it taps into the subconscious mind, allowing us to see things differently and feel more confident about the steps we need to take to achieve the desired change.

 

And there’s more!

More simply put, journaling makes us feel better. Just a handful of the things it can help with include:

  • Improved self-awareness: Regular journaling will help you gain clarity about the situations and things that cause you to react emotionally; be that in a good way or a bad way! Only once you have this awareness are you able to take steps to actively engage with the things that make you feel good, and to disengage from those that make you feel bad.
  • Reduction of stress: The act of writing down how you are feeling, and about what is causing you to feel that way, helps to release the intensity of these feeling because the emotional and subjective right-side of the brain is instantly able to share the weight of your worries with the logical and rational left side.
  • Improved relationships and conflict resolution: Writing about relationship issues or disagreements with other people, rather than just thinking about them, means that both sides of the brain work together to look objectively at the bigger picture and to find the most positive way forward.
  • Increased problem-solving ability: The right-brain isn’t known to be great at problem-solving so if we’re just going over and over things in our head, we’re unlikely to get to the resolution. By writing things down, the logical left-brain engages and things generally become much clearer.

 

Getting started

Just write. Ideally set some side aside every day, make it part of your routine. Ten minutes will do, 20 minutes is even better. Don’t think about what you’re writing, don’t edit, don’t worry about spelling or grammar or making any sense.   There are great benefits to be gained from following a structured journal, to focusing on a specific issue or topic, to aiming for a set word-count, or for keeping it to a set of short, simple bullet points. But the key to getting started is to just let the words flow and see where they take you.

 

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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.