You’ve probably heard people talk about the benefits of journaling. What is a journal? You may know it better as a diary, not to be confused with the planner or appointment book. We’re talking about the diaries you wrote as a hormonal teenager, where every moment rose and fell on whether or not your crush waved at your or remembered your name.
Once we are deemed adults, writing down our feelings can seem childish as we are taught that adults are “grown-ups” and should be able to cope with little ups and downs. Life is so full of things that require our immediate attention, and this healthy habit is often the first to go in the business of life. But the consequences are that the benefits to our mental health are also lost. Even though we may not have realised it at the time, making “Dear Diary” entries was a brilliant way to express our emotions, the first step to calming the swirl of feeling that has swamped our minds.
1. Expressing Emotions
If you tend to ruminate and turn things over in our minds as your method of processing and dealing with our emotions, you may be able to solve and process some thoughts and emotions, but your brain is a very busy place, and it’s sometimes easier to sweep aside this uncomfortable yet important process in order to deal with the urgent tasks of daily life.
The bad news is that by hiding away your emotions is like building a mental dam wall to keep them out. It doesn’t mean that they’ve disappeared or that they’ve magically resolved. In fact, continually adding to it will cause so much strain that one day, the dam wall will crack, and all of that unprocessed baggage will flood your entire mind when you least expect it. Your well run and regulated life may suddenly turn upside down as the tsunami of emotions, built up over your lifetime, come crashing down on you.
Regular journaling is one tool you can use to stop this from happening. Writing regularly helps you to process emotions as they arise. There are no rules: start with just one sentence a day and write whatever feels right. Let the words flow freely. I imagine that all the chaos in my mind is transferred from my brain, through my writing hand and onto my journal page and somehow, that action helps the jumble make sense.
It gives me a wonderful physical and mental relief. The best thing is that this simple practice sparks my brain into resolving many of my troubling thoughts.
2. A Safe Place
As a child, I remember wanting one of those pretty diaries with a lock and key and a matching feathered pen. The lock made me feel that it was a safe place where I could pour out my innermost thoughts without any repercussions or judgement because my diary was sacred and secret. The thought of anyone reading it was mortifying.
As adults, we still have thoughts and feelings that we are embarrassed or afraid to share, even with those we love. That’s normal. Some of those emotions may be about family and friends so we worry that they might take our words in the wrong way. Your journal is that sacred place where you can release those feelings without consequence. This safe place is for you, and you, alone. No one is looking over your shoulder. You don’t need to worry about what someone else thinks, or stress about hurting someone. Just let it all out—express your fears, hopes, dreams, sadness, jealousy and pain.
3. Processing and Healing
Studies show that the act of writing activates the part of the brain that help us to evaluate and order our thoughts. It’s the important first step to healing any issues you are facing. It also creates the opportunity to engage another part of the brain that is used when we read.
Take time to digest what you have written, to reflect on your words from the new perspective of reader. You will be able to look at your thoughts as an objective observer. This will help you to see your situation from a different point of view, providing insights previously unrealised. It’s that old saying, “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Looking at things differently offers clarity and perspective to your thinking in ways that can propel you towards healing.
Keeping a journal is to your mental health what a regular exercise program is to your physical body. The daily habit of journaling keeps your brain in great shape and when the unexpected happens, it becomes an essential part of healing from trauma.