Did you ever have one of those diaries with the tiny lock, when you were a kid? I did; but I promptly lost the little key and that was the end of that. I did not know then that keeping a journal would play such an important role in my life as an adult.
Keeping a journal is arguably one of the best gifts you could ever give yourself. Here’s why:
WRITING IMPROVES OUR MENTAL HEALTH
Depression and anxiety tend to cause rumination — having the same unhealthy thoughts over and over. It’s like our brain is caught on a hamster wheel and we can’t get off. When we write about our life, either in a recounting of events, or in story, we can rise above the ordinary frustrations of daily life. When we create a story from the chaotic elements of our personal history, our mind doesn't have to work as hard to bring structure and meaning to it.
In his decades of research, University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker has found that regular journaling makes us healthier. In one study, volunteer students who wrote about their emotions for 20 minutes over four days had fewer doctor visits for the remainder of the university year. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps us come to terms with them, reducing their impact on our physical health.
WRITING IS GOOD FOR SPIRITUAL HEALTH TOO
Scientific studies have shown that it takes about 20 minutes of uninterrupted concentration for our brain waves to switch from beta (our normal state of waking consciousness) to the alpha state, which is when we experience “flow”. Therefore, flow follows focus.
Writers, musicians, songwriters, athletes, and meditators have all described the same experience of decreased self-awareness and timelessness when flow state is reached. When we concentrate on writing for at least 20 minutes a day, we perform at an optimal state, are motivated, more creative and our inner critic gets shut down. Flow also takes us out of ourselves and allows us to feel as though we are part of something larger. In essence, we realize our connection to the universal grid.
KEEPING A JOURNAL PRESERVES STORIES AND MEMORIES THAT MAY OTHERWISE BE LOST
Whether we realize it or not, we are born storytellers and use story to tell people about our experiences multiple times each day. Writing down our stories in a journal while the memories are fresh can help us access rich sensory descriptions, our thoughts as the event happened, and how it made us feel. Writing our stories allows us to file the memory away, for calling up at a later date. It could also help us connect the dots as we begin to see patterns.
WRITING ALLOWS US TO MAKE SENSE OF THINGS
When we don’t know what to do or how we feel, putting words on paper makes concrete what is otherwise intangible. When we don’t feel like talking, writing lets us speak in a different, more powerful way. The page is a never-ending space for downloading our worries, fears, and hopes -- so we can release their hold on us.
WRITING HELPS US TO LET GO AND ACCEPT THAT WE MAY NEVER FIND THE ANSWERS
Exploring our emotions in writing keeps all our questions and possible answers accessible. We make concrete progress over time. We review and rework and eventually move beyond whatever we’re working to process.
WRITING IS CATHARTIC
Anyone who has gotten lost in a book knows that stories have the ability to transport us. Writing allows us to take action and see possibilities that we could not see when we are ruminating (endlessly reviewing the same event over and over). We can evolve our viewpoint in new versions of an event, perhaps with an alternative ending, or from other character’s perspective.
If you haven’t tried journal writing before, or haven’t picked up a pen to write in years, I encourage you totake my FREE online introductory course, Writing From the Heart. Whether it’s a refresh or completely new, it may be the beginning of a beautiful spiritual, physical, and mental relationship with your Self.