Keeping a journal is both therapeutic and pragmatic; it provides a space to express difficult emotions and, at times, to reason with the part of us that feels overwhelmed. This can lead to new ideas and possible solutions. It helps us to access our ‘wise mind’ by bringing balance to our emotional and rational self during all-important decision-making moments. Journaling also gives the writer permission to give full expression to conflicting internal views, working through problems and accessing the subconscious mind. For those of us who tend to overthink our problems, writing can help to quieten the mind, contributing towards clarity of thought and lessening tension in the body.
Previously, Barack Obama as US President outlined the value he placed on writing in a diary, describing it as, ‘an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about and what my deepest values are’. In creating a space to write, we can access parts of ourselves that may not be finding a voice in the automatic pilot of our day-to-day lives. Writing can help to shine a light on our deepest understandings and what we truly believe at the core of ourselves. This can often get lost in the expectations we have of ourselves or those imposed externally, for example by family, friends or society.
Writing our uninterrupted thoughts and feelings is a way of accessing our own truth about issues (past or present) we are experiencing.
A 10-Step Journaling Guide
1. In the spirit of self-care, buy yourself a really special journal.
2. For habit forming, Write (not type) your journal at the same time daily.
3. Write continuously for three pages and then stop … to be continued.
4. Park your inner critic! This exercise is not about having the correct spellings or grammar; it is about
thoughts, feelings and musings about issues you may be facing and all that that entails. Keep writing and
writing and writing; no editing required.
5. You can write about problems you are facing, relationship issues or dreams you aspire to. Include all your
thoughts and feelings, what’s going well, what is challenging etc. It is your space to write all your hopes,
fears, challenges and resolutions.
6. Firstly, start with the facts (as you see them) then write about your feelings and emotional responses – what
I do because I feel that way.
7. Finally, write about any positive learning or insights you can move forward with. What can you do now to take
care of yourself into the future? If you can’t connect with the last question, begin with: if I was taking
care of myself, I would …
8. Remember, you can journal to gain a deeper insight or to use it as an emotional dustbin! It is not about
getting it right, it’s about getting it on the paper.
9. If something is too difficult to write about, you could try to write about it in the third person. It gives
you another perspective, for example, if I was a good friend of mind observing this, what would I say or do?
Do not write if you feel emotionally overwhelmed. This may be the time to seek counselling support.
10. Writing without judgement allows us to access our inner voice of truth or intuitive self. You may be
surprised to find that it’s not always what you expected.
Journaling to Heal
People who engage with expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly reports of depressive symptoms, rumination and anxiety tend to drop in the weeks or months after writing about emotional upheavals according to 30 years of research findings by Professor James Pennebaker, author and Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas.
As it gives voice to our feelings, journaling can help us to gain a deeper self-understanding and improve communication within couple relationships. It can help us to gain new perspectives to help clear the path for new experiences.
Some women and men I have worked with in my Online Therapy practice have used journaling to process issues or relationship problems in their life or during times of transition to help them move forward with wisdom and clarity, supporting self-empowered decision-making.
Finally, when you have followed the above Journaling Steps as a way of learning how to journal, moving forward, you can continue in your own way. Write with complete abandon and simply write intuitively –to process events in the past or the present; how you feel (emotional responses) about what is happening and opinions or thoughts you hold about it. Include insights gained or what you’d like to do differently moving forward.
Remember, if at any point, you find the exercise too distressing, leave it and return when it feels more manageable or consider seeking counselling support.
Ann Bracken is an Online Counselling Psychotherapist/Life Coach and Author. She is also a lecturer in BA Hons. Counselling & Psychotherapy (ICHAS) and is a qualified and accredited Clinical Supervisor, Yoga Teacher, Mindfulness Trainer and Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.
She is passionate about bringing a Mind-Body Health and Healing approach for positive therapeutic change. More information & Bookings on: Annbrackentherapy.com