In Defence of Journaling

Most people have probably seen the millions of bullet-journals and positive planners pervading the wellness industry. Promising to fix our lives within a week of mindless scribbling, they often include journal prompts, peppered with positive quotes. And whilst proper journaling has long been associated with having huge benefits for mental health, it’s difficult to distinguish between real science and pop-culture psychology.

Enter the ‘positive’ approach to psychology. This is the relatively new study of positive individual traits and experiences; it focuses on highlighting what we are, rather than attempting to fix what we are not. Psychologists help the individual to hone in on their strengths and the people and things which bring them joy, as well as instilling a sense of meaning and purpose. It focuses on developing genuine, lasting satisfaction rather than just a few fleeting moments of joy and has been attributed to helping improve general contentment with life. 

In the modern world, it can be so difficult to establish and reflect upon our true purpose, the things we love and the reasons to smile. We can get so caught up in university work, deadlines and work-related stress, turning on the news only seems to reaffirm this bleakness. Most people could benefit from a few moments of reflection on their capabilities and the things which make life worthwhile.

Journaling can be a really useful tool to recognise all of the things which may bother us but that we are often too busy to stop and dismantle. It can also help us establish our own resilience and strength in the face of challenges, as well as assisting us in reflecting upon, rather than overlooking, all of the good which comes to us. It’s true that just spewing words onto a page probably won’t give you these benefits, but learning to journal effectively can help reduce stress and anxiety, improving overall quality of life. It’s incredibly individual, so it’s important to establish what matters to you, whether that’s visualising goals, clearing the brain-fog, or establishing often-overlooked connections between thoughts and behaviours.

With end of term deadlines approaching, it's important to feel grounded and to ensure you're approaching university work with a balanced and positive perspective. If you feel like journaling could help you with this, keep reading!

person writing in a journal while they read the bible Photo by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash

Here are a few top tips:
  • Write consecutively- to genuinely experience any benefits, you’re going to need to write more than twice a month. Many experts say that journalling multiple times a day is the most effective approach. This can seem overwhelming and can be difficult to fit into our busy schedules, but aim for at least once a day (perhaps first thing in the morning, during a lunch break, or just before bed).
  • Writing in a private and personal space can help avoid distractions and allow you to really focus on the emotions and words on the page. Plus, this way there’s little fear of being interrupted by someone who’s REALLY interested in whatever it is you’re writing.
  • Following on from this, keeping your journal private is a good way to help you manage your emotions healthily. Perhaps a concerned parent or sibling could read it before you’re ready to discuss the contents, leading to awkward and uncomfortable conversations. Don’t feel pressured to recount your every thought and emotion to someone else before you have been able to process and organise these feelings within your own head.
  • Practise writing mindfully to help to organise the words on the page. Allow yourself to really scrutinise what it is that you’re writing and the thoughts and emotions you experience. If your mind begins to wander, take a few moments to gather your thoughts and refocus.

 

Still not convinced? 

There are lots of scientific studies out there proving that both the positive approach and journaling can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and allow the individual to reassert control over their lives. Grothaus (2015) [1] wrote that journaling can improve our immune systems and allow for healthier sleeping patterns, whilst Fritson (2008) [2] states that students can benefit massively from journaling as it can help us feel more self-efficient and in control.

 

Photo by Prateek Katyal from Pexels

Why not give it a try?

Take 5 minutes before going to sleep this evening to give journaling a go. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Think about 5 things which have made you smile in the last 24 hours.

  • Honour your strengths. Reflect on your three greatest strengths and jot down specific examples of actions, behaviours, or accomplishments that demonstrate these strengths. [3]

 

References:

 

[1] “Why Journaling is Good for Your Health (and 8 Tips to Get Better)”: Grothaus (2015)

https://www.fastcompany.com/3041487/8-tips-to-more-effective-journaling-...

[2] “Impact of Journaling on Students’ Self-Efficacy and Locus of Control”: Fritson (2008)

 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/26530362_Impact_of_Journaling_o...'_Self-Efficacy_and_Locus_of_Control