Why Should You Start a Journal?

If you’re still looking for your New Year’s resolution for 2021, look no further. Starting a journal is easy, requires little (if any) money, and boasts numerous health benefits. Here’s why you should start a journal—and how to get started.

Five Reasons to Start Journaling

You might think that keeping a journal is an activity for moody teenage girls, but research shows that journaling can have legitimate benefits for your mental and physical health. Check out these five evidence-backed reasons why you should start journaling:

  1. Reduces Negative Thoughts

We could all use a healthy dose of positivity in our lives. That’s why journaling is perfect for this moment: it can reduce the number of avoidant and intrusive thoughts you have about negative events, helping you stay positive and upbeat. Writing about the causes of your negative emotions helps you organize and accept your feelings, reducing stress tied to those emotions and helping you process your feelings.

  1. Improves Mood

Lockdown got you down? Evidence suggests that keeping a journal could make you happier. One 2006 study found that young adults who journaled about stressful experiences saw decreased depression and anxiety. Finding language to express emotion helps with processing and managing stress.

  1. Boosts Immunity

Journaling doesn’t only affect your mental health; it might actually improve your physical health and make you more resistant to illnesses. In one of the earliest studies of expressive writing (a type of free-form journaling), researchers found that people who journaled had fewer doctors’ visits than those who did not. Inhibiting thoughts and feelings causes stress that, over a period of time, can lead to physical disruptions. Conversely, journaling about traumatic experiences alleviates stress and allows our bodies to focus on healing.

  1. Enhances Memory

Our short-term memory storage is limited. Over time, however, studies have found that reflective writing enhances our memory by promoting focus and decreasing the amount of time it takes to process, retain, and retrieve information.

  1. Speeds Healing

In addition to boosting our immune health, evidence shows that journaling about our emotions—especially surrounding a new diagnosis or existing health condition—can help us heal faster. A 2002 study of 60 women with breast cancer saw decreased symptoms in those who journaled about their emotional experience, rather than simply writing down the facts.

Tips for Starting a Journal

If you have never journaled before, starting a journal can feel intimidating. You might be wondering what to write about, how long to write for, or if you’re doing it the “right way.”

First, take a deep breath: there’s no right or wrong way to journal! Second, read our tips for getting maximum benefits out of your journal experience:

  • Limit distractions. The best time to journal is a time when you can be alone without interruptions. Maybe you choose to write while the kids are in school, or perhaps you take your journal to your favorite view spot. Wherever and whenever you choose to journal, make sure you can get a quiet moment to yourself.
  • Set a timer. Most of the studies around journaling show that journaling for 15 to 20 minutes is the “sweet spot.” When you’re in the zone, it’s easy to feel like hours have passed when it’s only been minutes. Setting a timer on your phone can help you stay on track with your writing goals.
  • Write what comes to mind. “What do I write?” is one of the most common worries when starting a journal for the first time. Many studies attesting to the mental health benefits of journaling followed a specific journaling technique called expressive writing, where participants write about whatever comes to mind without filtering their thoughts. Expressive journaling promotes catharsis.
  • Keep it private. If you’re worried someone might find your journal, you may be less likely to write down the truth of what you’re feeling. This means you could still be holding onto residual emotions even after journaling. The best way to prevent this is to keep your journal in a safe and private place, where you won’t worry about it being discovered or read. Still unsure? Tear it up when you’re done. The act of getting all of your deepest thoughts and emotions on paper for emotional comfort is the key here – not necessarily keeping it.

Creative Journal Prompts for Beginners

Still unsure of where to start? Try these simple journal prompts to spark your creativity and jump-start your journaling practice…

  • What is one thing you’re grateful for today?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • What does your ideal day look like?
  • What is a bad habit you want to change?
  • What do you love most about yourself?
  • What childhood experience still affects you today?
  • What is the most memorable trip you’ve taken?
  • What is your favorite memory?
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