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Journaling: Why Bother and Ways to Journal

Journaling, a buzzword in the self-care movement. How many of us have tried journaling and stopped? What stopped us? 


The act of journaling is recording experiences, ideas and reflections typically kept for private use. Often this is a tool encouraged by therapists for many reasons. 


The New York Times wrote a piece naming the benefits of journaling to include: 


 “a boost in mindfulness, memory and communication skills. But studies have also found that writing in a journal can lead to better sleep, a stronger immune system, more self-confidence and a higher I.Q. Research out of New Zealand suggests that the practice may even help wounds heal faster. Labeling emotions and acknowledging traumatic events — both natural outcomes of journaling — have a known positive effect on people, Dr. Pennebaker said, and are often incorporated into traditional talk therapy. At the same time, writing is fundamentally an organizational system. Keeping a journal, according to Dr. Pennebaker, helps to organize an event in our mind, and make sense of trauma. When we do that, our working memory improves, since our brains are freed from the enormously taxing job of processing that experience, and we sleep better. This in turn improves our immune system and our moods; we go to work feeling refreshed, perform better and socialize more. “There’s no single magic moment,” Dr. Pennebaker said. “But we know it works.”


The article goes on to discuss the frequency and ways you could consider engaging in journaling with supportive evidence (here is the full article if interested). 


Journaling does not have to be a daily exercise, in fact journaling daily can have a negative effect as it can reinforce rumination patterns at times. The expectation to journal every day is often what prevents people from engaging in the practice all together. Another barrier is the expectation of the writing. It does not have to be coherent or about the same topics or ideas in order to be helpful. Consider the following alternatives to “traditional” journaling:


  • Writing reflections with your non-dominant hand to increase mindfulness

  • Choose a word that depicts that day/week/month and write about it

  • Use watercolor and paint a circle of color, one author created this journal where you paint a circle a day  

  • Use a book and engage in blackout poetry

  •  Try junk journaling. Collage with objects from that week/day using receipts, packaging, and other materials 


If cadence is something that has prevented you from engaging in journaling, adjust your expectations. Keep a journal out for easier access and a visual reminder and take it out when feeling up for it, or schedule it once a month for a 15-30 minute period. Some have found pre-existing journals like this weekly pause journal or the daily five minute journal are alternative cadences to consider.   

 

Before throwing in the towel for journaling altogether, consider what limitations you may be setting that are preventing you from finding your journal practice?


What might you try in your journal this week?





This month Looking Glass Counseling is pleased to support On The Rise. On The Rise is a day program that works with women and gender diverse people who are homeless and lack a permanent, safe, secure place to live; are in crisis; have experienced traumatic physical and/or emotional abuse by people and/or systems; are falling through the cracks of our human service system because of the multiple and complex issues they face and are living in severe poverty (even after they are housed).



 

Vera Bednar, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC), a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) and certified in dialectical behavioral therapy (C-DBT). A Lesley University graduate, Vera earned a bachelor's in counseling and art therapy and a master's in clinical mental health counseling with a specialization in trauma.


Prior to joining Looking Glass Counseling, Vera worked in a wide variety of clinical settings including inpatient, residential, intensive outpatient and an assisted living center with an art therapy focus. She also worked in partial hospitalization programs specializing in trauma, LGBTQIA+ individuals and young adult transitions as well as substance use.




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