The Psychology of Journaling: 3 Benefits To Your Writing Practice (and life in general)

As writers we are often encouraged to write every day. Journaling can help with your daily writing practice and it has many psychological benefits for the writing process. You’ll probably find it overflows into your daily life.

I admit, I don’t journal every day, because if I only have a thirty minute block in the day to write then I want to work on my WIP. However, I do tap into the benefits of journaling at times when I most need it.

Ever since I was a kid i’ve haphazardly kept diaries and journals. I’ve always been far better at expressing my thoughts and feelings through the written word rather than verbally. Recording my internal experiences in a journal has provided a safe place for me to offload strong emotions such as distress, fear and hurt. It has allowed me to get the thoughts out of my head and onto paper. It allows my feelings to be lifted up so that I don’t become overwhelmed with the intensity of my emotions. There have been times when I’ve needed my trusted friend, the blank journal, which listens to me without judgement, unscrambles the confusion and relieves the tension I’ve carried around. It provides me with a new sense of understanding. It has often allowed me to process grief, loss, hurt, anger and sadness.

Of course, talking with a trusted friend or a professional is also just as useful. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out what you’re feeling or thinking until you start to write it down. You may find that you can then articulate your experience more clearly with a friend or other trusted person.

When I’m feeling bogged down by life, it interferes with my creativity and the writing process. That’s when I’ll open a blank document on Word or flip open a journal and just free write. It allows me to get anything that’s on my mind, out of my head and onto paper. Whatever I’m feeling is processed. Then I can set it aside and focus on my WIP.

Journaling is often used as a therapeutic technique by psychologists and social workers to help people become more attuned to their thoughts, feelings and their behavioural responses.

psychology-of-journaling

What is the purpose of Journaling?

Journals serve two main purposes. They record your experiences and they offer a cathartic release for the stresses of every day life. Free writing allows for the uninterrupted flow of your thoughts. Guided journals (with prompts and exercises) can help tap into the subconscious mind and unleash repressed thoughts and emotions.

3 Benefits of Journaling

Journaling has psychological and emotional health benefits which can not only support your writing practice but influence the way you approach your life in general.

  1. Process Experiences: In the case of trauma, the field of psychology has been a long-term believer in the processing of experiences in order to move forward with an improved frame of mind. While our instinct might be to block out memories, or shut out painful experiences; the intense feelings are usually re-channelled into unhelpful, avoidant behaviours. The processing of a painful experience actually allows the experience to become just that, an experience. It lessens the hold it has over you and you become desensitised to the intensity of the emotions it once activated. When you journal, you process what’s on your mind. It provides a space to reflect on yourself, your relationships and your experiences. It allows growth, development and the chance to learn. Personal reflection in turn allows the development of good patterns in your life. Essentially, journaling helps clarify your thoughts and feelings.
  2. Reduces stress: When you write about negative feelings, it releases the intensity of those feelings. When these emotions are released, you will feel calmer and more focussed.
  3. Harness creativity: Scientific evidence supports that journaling accesses the left brain which is the logical and analytical side of your brain. When you write it removes the mental blocks in place and allows your creative right brain to reign free. You will be amazed at how much better at problem-solving you will become when you unlock the right-brain!

There are many more benefits of journaling, but these are just a few. For some people, they experience negative effects such as becoming too analytical about their thoughts and behaviours, or becoming self-obsessive or self-blaming. If this has been your experience, then I’d recommend speaking to a professional instead. Allow someone else to help you make sense of what you are thinking and feeling, so that you don’t get too stuck in your own head.

Is journaling for you?

I won’t go ahead and recommend you journal every day for the rest of your life. But I will recommend you give it a go. Trial it daily for a month and see how it feels. Even if it’s just ten minutes a day. Then make a commitment to use it when you need it. Journaling may help you if you:

  • Feel stuck or struggling to move forward with the creative process
  • Are feeling overwhelmed by tasks and responsibilities
  • Want to improve your self-awareness
  • Want to develop an intimate connection with the characters on your page
  • Want to write daily but don’t know what to write yet
  • Are feeling stressed, sad or anxious

 

If you’d like to start with a guided journal, then please check out my range of mindfulness-inspired printable journals available on Etsy. More information here.

If you’re feeling sad or depressed, or this article has brought up difficult feelings for you, then I’d recommend you call Lifeline (Australia) o 13 11 14 and speak to a trained counsellor or, discuss your concerns with your GP.

What are your journaling experiences? Share them in the comments below…

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4 comments

  1. I know the benefits of journaling to be true, it can be cathartic and comforting and it can also stop the merry-go-round in your head when you have worries that have made themselves the default in your mind.
    But in the context of my professional experience working with children suffering trauma, I learned at a professional development day that the process of writing a narrative can also reset traumatic flashbacks which are triggered by some kind of sensual trigger, seeing or hearing or smelling something that is linked to the traumatic event. Writing the narrative enables the brain to *choose* whether to remember or not. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it does work for many people though obviously professional help is needed for severe cases.
    I wonder, when so many young people do not write by hand any more, if one contributing factor to what is said to be widespread depression among the young, is that they do not keep those diaries that people of my generation used to release the tumult of teenage years. Curled up In bed at night I wrote reams and reams about my thoughts and feelings, things that I never expressed to anyone else because I did not need to. Journalling innermost thoughts is not best done on a device, IMO, because there is something about the connection between mind, eye and hand that enables very personal writing.

    • Lisa, I’d absolutely agree that reconnecting with a traumatic experience can create strong emotional reactions and flashbacks. In the case of serious traumatic experiences, particularly childhood trauma, i’d recommend professional input and support. It can be very scary to revisit these on your own!
      You have brought up a very interesting point about the influence of technology and future generations. Part of the cathartic release involves putting pen to paper and allowing our thoughts out of our heads. I believe some research has identified that typing activates a different part of the brain compared to handwriting. Time will tell!

  2. Great post – and agree. I find that often I have no room in my head to create if I can’t process what’s already in there. Once it’s out (and I like to physically write it out) I’m right to go.

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