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Sometimes the challenges of life can seem so overwhelming that it’s hard to make sense of it all. While some people find solace in talking with a friend or professional, many women find relief in the form of a simple journal. Journaling, or expressive writing, can be a useful tool for processing negative thoughts and feelings and writing your way to a better frame of mind.

What is Journaling?

Journaling is both similar and different to the diary you may remember from your adolescent years. Back in the day, you may have written “Dear Diary” and then proceeded to ramble on about school, boys, homework, and your bratty little sister. Similarly, your adult journal can be a place to vent about the stressors of daily life, but with a twist—it can lead you to solutions and peace.

A journal is a place where you can record your thoughts and feelings about the events in your life. It is a stress management and self-exploration tool with a proven track record for relieving stress and providing emotional benefits. In fact, one recent study found that psychotherapy patients who used expressive writing experienced more progress and greater reductions in anxiety and depression than those who did not write in a journal.[1] Another study found that journaling was associated with significant decreases in worry and depression.[2]

Benefits of Journaling

Journaling is a safe and proven method for working through anxiety, stress, and emotions. The benefits are many:

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  • A journal provides an opportunity to clarify your thoughts and feelings.
  • A journal is an excellent problem-solving tool. Often, by writing your problems down, you can arrive at solutions you weren’t able to see prior to journaling.
  • A journal provides a safe, non-confrontational environment in which to express anger and frustration—without taking it out on others.
  • A journal provides an opportunity for reflection and allows you to see patterns over time.
  • A journal helps you process negative emotions and move toward positive ones.

How to Journal

There really is no right or wrong way to journal. Your goal is to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write with the purpose of moving into a more positive mindset. Some helpful guidelines for using journaling to relieve stress:

  • Make it a habit. Write for 15 minutes every day.
  • Banish your censor. Just write without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or spelling. This is simply a process for clarifying your thoughts and feelings, not a writing contest.
  • Write for yourself and yourself only. Keep your journal to yourself for the best results. If you know that no one else will read it, you’ll be more likely to write your honest feelings. This will allow you to let it all hang out.
  • Use a two-part process: 1) Write what happened, and 2) Write how you feel about what happened.
  • Keep digging. Keep writing and continue to ask yourself, “Why?” The more you dig, the more likely you are to peel away the layers of a problem until you arrive at the true source of your stress.

References:

[1] Graf MC, Guadiano BA, Geller PA. Written emotional disclosure: a controlled study of the benefits of expressive writing homework in outpatient psychotherapy. Psychotherapy Research. 2008; 18(4): 389-399.​

[2] Gortner E, Rude SS, Pennebaker JW. Benefits of expressive writing in lowering rumination and depressive symptoms. Behavior Therapy, 2006; 37(3): 292-303.