What Research Says About Journaling?

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One of the best and most accessible practices for improving your mental well-being is journaling. 

There are good reasons for it – it’s easy to implement, it’s versatile, it requires only a pen and paper  to start, and, most importantly, it appears to be an effective way of improving  ourselves. 

Let’s take a look at the benefits of journaling.

How journaling helps

Journaling helps in different ways. 

It appears as an effective way to reduce anxiety and to relax more. 

It can help us gain perspective and analyze the things that happen to us. 

It supports our memory and  allows  us to record and change our thoughts from negative to positive.

But why does journaling have such positive effects?

Neuroscience suggests that writing things down helps us process the information in a very different way. 

While we think something, the experience we have with this thought is different from when we write it down. 

We can see how it looks from the outside and process it using various systems in our brain. 

Writing things down has real effects on a neurological level, being a way of processing information in a new way and creating lasting changes and habits.

Journaling and mental health

Journaling is a great strategy for improving mental health. In general, it can help you reduce anxiety through various mechanisms. 

When you write things down, that concern you it’s easier to stop ruminating on them and also to examine them from a different point of view. 

The act of jotting them down gives you greater control over your inner life.

It is a relaxing activity that provides ways for self-improvement and habit building.

You can customize your journaling process as much as you like to fit your specific goals.

For example, you might use a gratitude journal by recording the good things happening in your life to boost your well-being and help keep you positive and opening yourself up to more things to be grateful for.

When journaling is done consistently, it becomes an effective strategy for preventing mental health issues and improving one’s emotional and psychological state.

What is positive affect journaling?

One popular approach to journaling with good effects for physical and mental health is positive affect journaling. 

This involves writing about the positive aspects of oneself, one’s life, those around them, and their situations. 

It can involve finding and making meaning from past experience in a positive way, it’s a bit like reframing your thoughts in order to see the good from any bumpy experiences. Challenging your normal way of thinking to improve your future path.

This type of journaling centers on the good: a person’s strengths, talents, positive emotions, and more, it also strengthens your mind for more positive thoughts. 

It involves 15-20 minutes of writing about one’s positive experiences every day or a few times per week.

Journaling positive affirmations

Another use of positivity-focused journaling is through building affirmations.

Affirmations are phrases that express an intention or a positive aspect of ourselves. 

For example, “I feel confident today” or “I am moving towards my goals” are both examples of this type of sentence. 

Through journaling, you can repeat affirmations and believe them more strongly.

The more you repeat them, the more you will believe them, to create the destiny you prefer.

You can explore what they mean to you and how they can apply. 

By writing down your affirmations, you can commit to them and believe in them more strongly, as repetition slowly cements itself into your belief system.

Journaling to get positive energy

There are different activities that require us to put in a little effort and energy to get more energy out of them.  

Meditation, exercise, and cooking are a few examples. 

Journaling belongs in this list as well. 

It requires a bit of work, but the more you do it, the better you can feel and the more benefits you can discover. 

Journaling gives you boosts of positive energy when you use it as a tool to engage with the positive aspects of your life. 

It appears to make you kinder and more empathetic, as well as more likely to help other people, which in turn helps you increase your happiness and self worth.

It can make you more inclined to recognize the good things in life and the good things that you can achieve as well as being more appreciative for the things you have accomplished in your life. 

Journaling reconnects you with your goals and motivations and is one of the best tools at your disposal right now.

What to write when journaling?

So, you got your pen and paper, notebook, Word document, phone app, or site for journaling online. 

Any of these can work, so you should choose the best tools for your situation. 

What now? 

You might find that it’s not always easy to come up with ideas on journaling what to write.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

• Get a journal with writing prompts or find a prompt generator

An easy way is to look for prompts. 

You can find hundreds of these online or get a journal that orients you towards a specific thinking process. 

If you want positive energy, you might look for prompts related to gratitude, kindness, appreciations, or positivity in general.

The 5-Minute Gratitude Journal: Give Thanks, Practice Positivity, Find Joy

Positive Thinking: A 52-Week Journal of Profound Prompts, Inspiring Quotes, and Bold Affirmations

Find something that interests you and inspires you to think or that challenges you.

• Focus on a memory or an experience

Consider a past experience and the positive aspects that it had.  

Even if it was something difficult, try to see if a good thing came out of it. 

Don’t ruminate on the negative, but instead challenge yourself to discover a few benefits or positive outcomes or lessons that you learned.

• Consider what you’re grateful for

An easy prompt is to write down a few things that you are grateful for on that day or in general. 

Anything goes, from a particularly good meal to how much you love  your family. 

Gratitude journaling works  best when done a few times a week, and the benefits can be significant.

Karns CM, Moore WE III and Mayr U (2017) The Cultivation of Pure Altruism via Gratitude: A Functional MRI Study of Change with Gratitude Practice. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 11:599. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00599

Schroder, H. S., Moran, T. P., & Moser, J. S. (2018). The effect of expressive writing on the error-related negativity among individuals with chronic worry. Psychophysiology, 55(2), 10.1111/psyp.12990. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.12990

Smyth, J. M., Johnson, J. A., Auer, B. J., Lehman, E., Talamo, G., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2018). Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR mental health, 5(4), e11290. https://doi.org/10.2196/11290

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