The Benefits of Journaling: How to Get Started

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The benefits of journaling have been scientifically proven. Journaling can be an effective tool for stress management, processing difficult emotions, and creating personal growth. It has also been linked to important health benefits like decreasing the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions, increasing cognitive functioning, increasing the immune system, and counteracting the negative effects of stress. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Buy a Journal

This seems like the obvious first step. However, what kind of a journal you purchase is important. You can choose from the most beautiful blank books you can find to a more functional notebook, to your computer. If you go with the blank book option, you can decide between lined or blank pages, with a variety of pens. Use your book to reflect your creativity, or go with functionality first. It’s all up to you and your tastes.

Set Aside Time

One of the most difficult aspects of journaling is not the journaling itself, but finding time to write. It’s important to block off about twenty minutes each day to write, but if you find it difficult to set aside that much time, especially in the beginning, even taking five minutes to jot down a few ideas is better than waiting until you have the full twenty--that could make the difference between forming a habit and merely forming the memory of when you wanted to create this new habit. Many people prefer to write in the morning as a way to start their day, or before bed, as a way to reflect upon and process the day’s events. However, if your lunch break or some other time is the only window you have, take the time whenever you can get it!

Begin Writing

Don’t think about what to say; just begin writing, and the words should come. However, if they don't come automatically, having some ideas to prompt you can get your fingers moving. If really need some help getting started, here are some topics to begin the process:

  • Your dreams
  • Your possible purpose in life
  • Your childhood memories and surrounding feelings
  • Where you’d like to be in two years
  • The best and worst days of your life
  • If you could have three wishes…
  • What was important to you five years ago, and what’s important to you now
  • What are you grateful for?

Write About Thoughts and Feelings

As you write, don’t just vent negative emotions or catalog events; write about your feelings, but also your thoughts surrounding emotional events. (Research shows much greater benefits from journaling when participants write about emotional issues from a mental and emotional framework.) Relive events emotionally, and try to construct solutions and ‘find the lesson’. Using both aspects of yourself helps you process the event and find solutions to problems.

Keep Your Journal Private

If you’re worried that someone else may read your journal, you’re much more likely to self-censor, and you won’t achieve the same benefits from writing. To prevent the worry and maximize journaling effectiveness, you can either get a book that locks or keep your book in a locked or very hidden place. If using a computer, you can password-protect your journal so you’ll feel safe when you write.

Additional Tips

  1. Try to write each day.
  2. Writing for at least 20 minutes is ideal, but if you only have 5 minutes, write for 5.
  3. If you skip a day or 3, just keep writing when you can.
  4. Don’t worry about neatness or even grammar. Just getting your thoughts and feelings on paper is more important than perfection.
  5. Try not to self-censor; let go of ‘shoulds’, and just write what comes. You may also want to try a gratitude journal, a coincidence journal, or a goal-setting journal.

What You Need

  • A journal and pen or a computer
  • A few minutes of quiet privacy each day
  • That’s it!

View Article Sources
  • Anderson CM. Writing and Healing: Toward an Informed Practice. 1999.
  • Ullrich, Philip M., M.A.; Lutgendorf, Susan K., Ph.D. Journaling About Stressful Events: Effects of Cognitive Processing and Emotional Expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2002.