The first memory I have of journaling is my mother’s. Of course. She religiously kept a journal in the 70’s and 80’s. It was just a simple notebook. The reason I remember it so clearly is that my brother and I were absolutely forbidden to touch it. Of all the naughty things we could do. We would never do that. Her journal was sacred territory and we knew it. Now, in my 40’s, I have a huge stack of my own journals kept throughout the years and my children also know that they are sacred.
The Benefits of Journaling
Journal writing has always been a part of my healing process and I recommend it to all my patients. The benefits are plentiful and well researched. Studies show that writing down our inner thoughts and feelings reduces stress, helps us gain mental clarity, and increases brain power and intuition. It can also decrease depression, anxiety and improve the quality of your relationships.
Even more interesting is that there are documented physical benefits. Dr. James Pennebaker at the University of Texas researches expressive writing. He has found that journaling strengthens the function of immune cells called T-lymphocytes. It also decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Other studies have shown that journaling reduces blood pressure, increases sleep quality and can improve physical discomfort.
The most wonderful thing about journaling is that these benefits can be achieved with very little time, effort and money.
Our Journal offers a safe place to record your thoughts and feelings, and is with you wherever your phone or tablet is.
Location and Time: Find a place and time that is cozy and private. Like meditation, your body/mind will sync with the environment and automatically go into a writing state of being. I write first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee.
Uncensored: The key to journaling is that it is uncensored. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation. This is free flowing, totally private and is meant to be unfiltered.
Structured vs. unstructured: In the beginning it is easier to start with a little structure and then move to a free associative style. Give both a try and see what works best for you.
Journal Style Options:
Mindfulness Style: I start by describing my environment and present moment. “Morning, coffee, tired, snowy and cold.” Then it becomes a mindfulness exercise where I answer the question, “what’s here now?” I look inward and describe my thoughts and feelings about anything salient. Sometimes I write about my dreams and sometimes I write about something important going on in my life. They are usually related.
Gratitude Journal: Another great way to start and end the day is to write down five things for which you are grateful. It’s quick, easy and puts your heart in the right space.
Letter to Your Body: This is a wonderful exercise for anyone with pain or illness. It may surprise you. First write a letter from you to your body or illness. It goes like this. “Dear IBS, I hate your guts. Ha! Guts? Get it? You limit my life so much that I feel like I cannot fulfill my dreams. You limit my ability to be a good parent, spouse and friend. I hate you.” Next, write a letter from your body/illness to you. For example. “Dear Sue, I feel like you ignore me and I need attention. I don’t feel good and I need special care. If you only knew what it was like to be me. I try so hard but can’t get passed this without you.”
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to do this, it is your experience, and your journal.