“Journaling is someone to talk to when there is no one to talk to.”
Somewhere in your old papers and books from childhood is probably tucked a small book full of cringe-worthy pages, each of them beginning “Dear Diary.” We often think of diaries or journals as rites of passage for angst-ridden adolescents, places for revealing insecurities, longings or heart-pounding crushes.
But keeping a journal as an adult can be a meaningful, beneficial practice that you should consider incorporating into your daily routine.
In fact, journaling may be a feature that the truly successful and enlightened share. President Barack Obama, as well as former presidents John Adams and Ronald Reagan; former Prime Minister Winston Churchill; inventors Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison; philanthropist and business leader John D. Rockefeller; military leader George Patton; tennis player Serena Williams and media star Oprah Winfrey all have acknowledged the important role keeping journals has had in their success.
Not only that, but science increasingly supports this, with repeated studies revealing that journaling can have positive benefits on mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical health.
The best thing about journaling is that it’s easy, and anyone can do it. All you need is a blank book, which might be a spiral-bound notebook or one of the Afrocentric journals found on this site, as well as a pen or pencil and a few minutes each day.
Here are 10 ways in which writing in a journal every day can improve your life.
- It boosts immunity and improves your health.
When you were in school, your teachers probably told you about the benefits of journaling for your writing skills and creativity. Others may have sworn by journaling as a tried-and-true method of alleviating worry or stress. However, the greatest reason to keep a journal is the reason you probably didn’t even know about: Journaling can help keep you healthy.
Advances in Psychiatric Treatment reported that people who regularly journaled about traumatic and upsetting experiences showed not only short-term improvements in mood, but long-term health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, improved lung and liver function, fewer days in the hospital and fewer stress-related visits to the doctor. Expressing emotions in a journal has been linked to a reduction in arthritis pain, asthma symptoms and cancer pain and it promotes wound healing and enhances immune-system functioning. It’s also been shown to be an effective tool in the addiction recovery process.
- Writing stimulates the brain.
We’re not talking about writing in the abstract here — we mean it quite literally. Close up that computer, take out a pen or pencil and start writing longhand on a piece of paper. The act of writing by hand unlocks creativity, stimulates your energy and leads to better decision-making. Professional writers already know this, but science is slowly backing up the benefits of handwriting to creative work and the workplace. Research shows that writing longhand stimulates the reticular activating system, or RAS, which helps us to filter out nonessential information and focus more clearly.
And all the better if you tend to write in cursive, which improves thinking, language and working memory, because it stimulates brain synapses and helps the left and right hemispheres of the brain to work together (which printing and typing don’t do). The College Board even found that those who wrote the essay portions of their SATs in cursive scored slightly higher than those who printed.
If you want to make a decision, solve a problem, come up with an idea or understand something better, journaling may be the key. In fact, journaling has been linked to an increased vocabulary and a higher IQ.
- It improves your emotional and spiritual health.
Now you know that journaling can be good for your body, but did you know it also has benefits for the soul too? Its long-term advantages include improvements in mood and lowering of depressive symptoms. Writing in a journal is therapeutic, forcing you to slow down and reflect, not unlike sitting in a counselor’s office. By offloading the weight of mental or emotional burdens onto the page, you’re lightening your own load, which can be enormously freeing. This is why many mental health professionals recommend journaling as a method for coping with grief, responding to frustration, dealing with feelings of depression and talking through negative feelings. It’s often used as a tool for helping addicts handle cravings.
Keeping a journal is one way to shut out the noise of the outside world for a few moments and go inward, reflecting on your goals and dreams or examining the choices that have gotten you to where you are right now. It also can improve your self-esteem and confidence by giving the opportunity to talk through your own perceived weaknesses or giving you space to cheer yourself on and remind yourself what’s good in your life. Plus, journaling improves your emotional intelligence and sense of empathy.
- It relieves stress and anxiety.
Acclaimed author Alice Walker once said, “Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.”
And it’s no wonder — writing can help you to lower your stress and work through anxiety or turmoil. That’s why therapists recommend it as a way to treat insomnia and anxiety. In those moments when you’re angry, upset or feeling weighed down by stress or pressure, and all you want to do is slam a door and have a good ol’ fashioned temper tantrum, grab your journal and a pen instead and get all that stress out of your head and onto the page. Journals are safe spaces in which you can express your true emotions and reflect upon your actions and life — anything goes, and no one will ever judge you for what you say in your journal. You can share the most vulnerable parts of your inner self. Don’t edit or correct yourself. Just let it all out, however it comes, and enjoy the release that follows when you’re truly yourself.
In one study, mothers of autistic children, a group of people who often face chronic stress, experienced relief through journaling. In another, a group of unemployed professionals who wrote about the trauma of their job loss not only experienced release by writing, but actually found new employment faster than those who didn’t, which may tell you something about the sense of balance, increased confidence and positivity that may emanate from journal-keepers.
Scientists tell us that journaling quiets the mind and helps alleviate insomnia by helping you to manage your overwhelming emotions. It gets your mind off that “hamster wheel.” Rather than stewing about that looming deadline, that unpleasant conversation, that difficult situation at work or with your family, take a few minutes first thing in the morning or just before bed and get it all out. Run through “what if?” scenarios, or make preparations such as to-do lists or mini-speeches. Once it’s all out, you’ll actually feel more relaxed. In a way, journaling is much like prayer just written down. You can reach out to your higher power about anything and everything in your life, letting out your deepest concerns and seeking guidance and relief during. Or, in good times, you can praise the heavens for your blessings and gratitude!
- Journaling nurtures your creativity.
There’s a reason that so many authors keep journals and so many teachers encourage it in their students. A journal is a great space for all the clutter that gathers in your mind, paving the way for the good ideas to come. Then, when they come, you can feel safe revealing those vulnerable seedlings.
How does journaling unlock creativity? It’s actually a biological thing. The act of writing engages the left side of your brain, which is rational and analytical. So while it’s busy writing, the right side of your brain — the spatial, emotional, creative side — can wander freely, uncensored and uncontrolled by the left. And you might just be amazed by what comes out.
With pen in hand, those brain synapses firing on all cylinders and your filters turned off, a journal can be the home for that next genius idea or creative gem.
- It inspires gratitude (and may give you more to be grateful for).
Not sure what to write about? Consider a gratitude journal.
It’s easy to wallow in misery when life feels hard. Your boss is too hard on you, your job is too stressful or too boring, money’s tight, you don’t have the possessions you want, you feel lonely, you feel crowded, you feel scared…
But when you force yourself to recount all your blessings, to express gratitude for all the wonderful things in your life, that simple act can reframe your thinking and improve your state of mind. After a while, you won’t have to force it — gratitude will come naturally. Plus, ironically, you may just find that abundance surrounds you. Oprah Winfrey has said that when she began keeping a gratitude journal, blessings seemed to come pouring upon her, and many others have made similar claims. Projecting an attitude of gratitude radiates goodness and appreciation for the simple pleasures in life. Others notice that, and the effects can be remarkable.
One type of abundance you may experience is good health. According to the American Psychological Association, gratitude journaling leads to improved mood, better quality sleep, less fatigue and even better cardiac health. As it turns out, gratitude really can lift your heart up, in more ways than one.
Also, when you write about a positive experience, it helps your brain to relive it, which releases endorphins and dopamine. This gives you an actual, physical boost in mood and self-confidence.
Try a gratitude journal. Spend a few minutes today listing all the things in your life for which you are grateful. Are you and your family in good health? Do you have food on the table and a roof over your head? Are you employed? Do you have good friends and people who love you in your life? Do you have hobbies and activities that make you happy? Do you have passion in your life? Do you have beauty, joy and fun? Think about all the ways, big and small, in which you have been lucky and wealthy today — whether it’s a good relationship, a good day at work or simply a delicious meal. Dwell on those positive things when life gets you down, and your mood is certain to improve.
- It reveals who you really are.
President Barack Obama has said, “In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are.”
Keeping a journal will reveal insights about yourself. It raises your awareness of who you are, and helps you to examine your thoughts and emotions from a different perspective. When you shut off your left brain and let the right brain pour forth, you may discover hidden thoughts and feelings that have been affecting you without your realizing it. You may find that there are patterns in your life, patterns you never saw before, that are causing you unhappiness or frustration. And you may discover that you feel happiness when you are with certain people or doing certain things. Reading back through a journal can be a voyage of self-discovery. It may help you see yourself in a new light, and that can be a powerful tool in helping you to make changes for the better, or in helping you to understand more about yourself and begin seeking what you really want (or avoiding what you don’t).
- Keeping a journal aids your memory.
As we’ve said before, that relationship between hand and brain can have powerful results. Here’s another one. When we were children learning to read and write, that act of writing helped to etch the information into our memory. This same process works in adults too. Scientists found that when adults wrote information down, it activated regions in the brain associated with storing and managing information.
When you journal about your day, your ideas or your thoughts and feelings, you have a written record of them, but you also are committing them to memory.
- It makes you better at work and in life.
Writing in a journal seems like such a simple, basic task, but making it a regular practice can have profound effects on how you work and get through your day, improving numerous skills.
First, there’s discipline. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. Training yourself to sit down at a specific time each day and write demonstrates discipline in one area, and it’s likely to extend to other areas of your life as well. Plus, the fact that you keep a journal will expand your vocabulary and your writing skills, inevitably, and this may extend to your interpersonal skills as well.
Next, it affects you when setting goals. When you journal, it’s likely that you’ll write down your dreams and ambitions, and putting them on paper makes them real. You may find yourself writing about ways to achieve your goals. Writing them down actually improves your chances of achieving them. Setting and achieving goals is an important skill that those around you will appreciate and emulate.
Journaling also helps to keep you more organized, turning the jumble of things in your head into a list of priorities. It allows you to ramble aimlessly, then gives you time to turn those ramblings into organized thoughts. It also helps you to better explore problems and arrive naturally at solutions by exploring options, without pressure from others. You may find that after you’ve been journaling for a while, your thoughts seem more focused and the tasks on your to-do list are more actionable, with more of them being achieved.
Finally, journaling helps you to become emotionally balanced. When you have a safe space in which to vent, you don’t bring that baggage with you, and your surroundings may be more harmonious as a result.
- It deepens your relationship with God and your faith.
Keeping a journal can be a form of prayer or intense meditation. It’s an opportunity for you to explore your relationship with God, to invite God into your life, to seek God’s wisdom and guidance or to look for ways in which He touches your life each day. Your journal can be a tool for embarking on a spiritual journey. In it, you can record the events of your life and how you responded to them. You can reflect on how God is at work in your day-to-day life — speaking to you or showing you his presence — or whether you have felt His absence. Then, when you read what you have written with fresh eyes, you can respond by giving thanks and praise, taking comfort from knowing God’s presence or taking action to create change in your life or feel a deeper bond with God.
There are very few rules when it comes to journaling. Don’t let that stand in your way of starting this vital practice. Whether you select one of our African-American journals or a plain notepad, just carve out five, 10 or 20 minutes each day to write something, anything. That’s all! Make it a habit, and you may just be amazed at the changes you see in your life.