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How Journaling Made Me Happier

Recently for a class, I had to write a daily journal. At the end of each day, I wrote what happened and then rated how I felt on a scale of 1-5, 1 being a bad day and 5 being an excellent one. I couldn’t go back and reflect on other days or compare them to each other - each day was independent. At the end, I went back and tried to find any trends between events and how I felt.

I figured I knew myself pretty well. I’ve been alive for this long, how could I not know the things that make my days or ruin them? I dreaded having to write my reflective paper, expecting to have absolutely nothing new to say. I was not, however, anticipating a mild identity crisis.

I have social anxiety. It’s something I’ve struggled with for a long time. Interacting with strangers feels like drinking 10 espresso shots, and all I can hear is my heart pounding and every quiver in my voice and my thoughts flying rapidfire as I overanalyze everything the other person is doing. Even after all is said and done, I have to take a break to get my breathing in check and stop trembling. I know how taxing socializing is for me. Because of this, I tend to avoid it. I figure it will only ruin my day. But when I looked over my journal entries, this idea of myself came crashing down. When I talked to people outside of my usual bubble of close friends and family, no matter how anxious it had made me, I ended up rating the day higher than if I hadn’t. There was not a single day where this didn’t hold up.

Cue about two hours of me staring at the ceiling, thinking about how I really did feel happier after talking with people. On top of school, work, and the current mess of a world we’re in, I did not want to be dealing with the crushing reality that I was probably an extravert.

All dramatics aside, since then, I have made a conscious effort to talk to people more, and I’ve noticed a difference. It wasn’t a magic, cure-all to my anxiety. I still spend a ridiculous amount of time re-reading every message or e-mail I send, and I still have to lay down and go through several breathing exercises. But it has been getting easier, and my days have been seeming a little brighter. It really makes me wonder how much longer I would’ve withdrawn myself if I hadn’t done that journaling assignment. So, this story has been a long preface to this: try journaling.

A quick Google search will lead you to lots of evidence on the benefits of journaling. Journaling has even become an increasingly popular tool within therapy settings [1]. It helps clients express their thoughts and lower distress. It promotes self-intimacy and discovery. It could help you make larger connections between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It could help you find a different way to solve a problem.

Beyond introspection, it can help with managing mental health [2]. If you decide you want to track your daily symptoms, you could identify any triggers. It could help pinpoint any negative self-talk and creates opportunity for more positive self-talk instead. It could help you realize which problems or concerns you want to prioritize.

Although it is generally recommended to write daily, you don’t have to pressure yourself too hard. Some days you forget, and that’s okay! The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is for you. Write what you want, however you want.

 

 

References:

[1] Utley, A., & Garza, Y. (2011). The Therapeutic Use of Journaling With Adolescents. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 6(1), 29-41. DOI: 10.1080/15401383.2011.557312.

 

[2] Watson, L., Fraser, M., & Ballas, P. (Eds.). (n.d.). Journaling for Mental Health. University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552.

Cristina is a freshman majoring in Psychology (BA) at UT Austin. She loves people, animals, and anything cute! In her free time, you can find her practicing the piano or huddled up in her bed watching Hulu.
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