Who knew that your childhood diary could be the ultimate form of self-care? Studies have shown that writing your emotions down on paper can help reduce stress and anxiety and even ease trauma. Research on the benefits of "expressive writing" in particular has been published in Harvard Health Publications, showing the therapeutic effects of regular journaling. I decided to put this to the test myself and journal for 15 minutes every day for seven days. By the end of the week, my stress level had noticeably improved.
On day one, I dug up a journal that I hadn't touched in over a year and let my thoughts spill onto the pages. One, who knew I was going through so much sh*t, and two, damn, did it feel good. Without following a prompt, I just allowed myself to free-write for what was supposed to be 15 minutes. Instead, I found myself writing past the time limit for nearly half an hour. The process was amazingly cathartic, and by the time I finished, I felt like I had just vented to a friend. As the week went on, I actually began to struggle with finding things to write about — which I took as a sign of progress. I began to notice that I had less "issues" to work out on paper by day four, so I switched gears and wrote about things I was grateful for and created a list of goals for the upcoming year. Interestingly, I found this exercise to be just as beneficial and more fun. And by the last day, I was in a much better headspace than I was at the start of this experiment.
It's important to note that this wasn't the first time I looked to journaling for therapy. About three years ago when I moved to San Francisco, I had just ended an abusive relationship. I knew no one in the city and therefore didn't know who to talk to about what I was going through. I did know, however, that I had to find an outlet to prevent myself from breaking. I found comfort in journaling and used that as a safe space to express every one of my thoughts and feelings as they arose, and eventually, I no longer needed it (hence the reason it's been so long since I last wrote in my journal). This recent seven-day exercise reminded me that even if I may not be going through something as traumatic as before, journaling can still be beneficial for my mental health — and may even act as a great stress-prevention tool. I definitely won't be neglecting my journal for as long as I did.
Here are some additional notes to keep in mind for your own journaling sessions!
- Create a relaxing space. Before you start writing, clear your area of any clutter. Turn the TV off, silence your phone, maybe even light some candles, and dedicate the next 15 minutes to distraction-free writing.
- Don't worry about what to write about. Forget about spelling mistakes or grammar and just let your thoughts flow naturally. If you run out of things to say, focus on positive things.