The Gifts of Journaling & 6 Tips to Get Started

By Randall Winter ’12, Public and Community Health Major, Center for Health and Wellbeing Intern

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.
~Sharon O’Brien

photo credit: aepoc

Journaling, or the process of recording your personal thoughts and daily experiences through free writing, can do more than provide an outlet for cathartic venting. It can serve as a powerful vehicle for self-reflection and emotional growth.

Think of your journal as a space to check in with yourself, clarify values and desires and process fears and anxieties.

Increasing scientific data is uncovering powerful physical benefits of keeping a journal, such as managing stress and strengthening the immune system and reducing physical symptoms of chronic illness when writing about stressful events.

It can be a problem-solving tool as well, helping you gain insight into effective and unexpected solutions. We tend to approach problems analytically with our right-brains. Writing can awaken the creativity and intuition of our left-brains.

Journaling is emotionally therapeutic. Writing can help you process and cope with complex feelings and work through the difficult healing process in a healthy, constructive way.

Getting Started

  1. Invest in a journal. Choose a notebook that is uniquely you and make it your own. Or, if you are more comfortable, simply write on loose-leaf paper and discard it when you’re done. The benefit comes from having done the writing, not necessarily keeping it around. However, a record you can refer back to can help you notice trends and track improvements over time.
  2. Make the time. Set aside as little as 5 minutes each day to write. Make it part of your morning, lunch-time or evening routine and be consistent. If possible, write in the same space at the same time of day. Make it a goal to work up to a daily 20 minute writing practice.
  3. Just begin. Try not to over-think it. Simply write whatever comes to you. If you’re feeling stuck, you’ll find some helpful prompts below.
  4. Make it a judgment-free zone. Leave self-criticism and censorship at the door. Try writing with a pen rather than a pencil with an eraser to avoid worrying about neatness, spelling or grammar. If you skip a day, or two or ten – don’t give up.
  5. Get personal. The greatest emotional and physical benefits of journaling occur when you move beyond a simple recounting of your day’s activities. Dig deep and tap into your rich emotional landscape – the good, the bad and the ugly.
  6. Keep it for your eyes only. If you are worried about someone else reading your journal, chances are you’re going to have a hard time being candid and honest with yourself. Put it in a place where you feel confident no one will find it.  Maybe consider putting it in a safe or buying a lock for it.

Having writer’s block? Here are some prompts to get the pen moving…

  • Where would you like to be in 2 years?
  • If you could have three wishes – one for yourself, one for somebody else and one for the world –  what would they be?
  • What was important to you five years ago? How about now?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • What or who makes you the happiest?
  • What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?

Do you maintain a journaling practice?

  • What are some tips you would share with someone just getting started?
  • What are some of  your favorite writing prompts?
  • Where are your favorite places to journal on campus?

Tell us in the comments below.

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2 Responses to The Gifts of Journaling & 6 Tips to Get Started

  1. sooyoung says:

    When I remember to journal I love to go over my day/week- highs and lows and since I’m a big “to do” list maker I like to write out what I hope to get accomplished for the next week. That way I get to organize all the chaos in my head and lay it all out to manage.

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