(originally published on Birmingham Counselling services) - link to original piece here
How can writing a diary or journal help me to maintain a healthy mind?
Many people believe that writing a diary or journal can have a really positive impact on mental health.
Research has shown that writing expressively (that is, writing about feelings and emotions), can help you recover from traumatic events more successfully and that it can also help to ease stress, anxiety and depression.
Studies have shown that writing a diary can bring the following top 5 benefits:
- Clarify your thoughts and emotions
- Help you know yourself better
- Reduce anxiety
- Help ‘unblock’ problems
- Help with resolution of differences with others
Some researchers believe that just sitting down and putting thoughts and feelings down on paper means that the writer will reflect. This process can help them gain control and a clearer understanding over their emotions and thoughts.
The important thing is to use the diary for YOU! If you feel it would be useful to write about something that you are thinking about or worrying about too much, then focus on this. If you’d rather write about what’s going on in your life at the present or your aspirations for the future, then do this! There are no rights and wrongs! The diary is for you alone – you could view it as a ‘trusted friend’.
Professor James Pennebaker from the University of Texas, Austin, has carried out numerous experiments on the health benefits of writing expressively. In his book ‘Opening up – the healing power of expressing emotions’, he takes the reader through some first-timer tips for writing expressively in a diary.
- Find a time and place to write where you won’t be disturbed
- Promise yourself that you will write for a minimum of 15 minutes a day for a least 3-4 consecutive days
- Once you begin, write continuously. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar
- Don’t censor what you write. Write just for yourself
If you have ‘writer’s block’, try writing about something that you are thinking or worrying about too much or something that you have been avoiding
Remember that you need to feel free to write whatever you like no matter how uncomfortable or ‘taboo’. Therefore, you might want to consider finding a locked drawer to keep your diary in to make sure it isn’t read by others. Alternatively, there are many diary or journalling apps available online, most of which offer password and encryption to keep your entries safe and confidential.
So why not give writing a diary a go?! It’s cheap to get started – all you need is a pen and paper or access to an online diary or journalling app. Good luck with your writing – hopefully you’ll find that your diary is an accepting, non-judgmental friend who will always listen!