Writing down your thoughts, dreams, feelings, and ideas is a healthy and beneficial practice for overall wellness. Writing helps get to the heart of the matter by getting whatever you’re dealing with off your mind and onto the page. Writing about the pain of heartbreak, the confusing feelings that arise after an argument, or the mess of your life after a big transition helps make those feelings real.
There are more ways to express yourself other than gratitude journaling. Acknowledging and confronting difficult emotions allows the healing process to begin. Journaling is a healthy outlet and positive coping mechanism for facing overwhelming emotions. According to researchers from University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling is a helpful tool in managing mental health. If you are on a healing journey through loss, grief, addiction, or are genuinely interested in personal growth, expressive writing is a beneficial beginning.
Benefits of Journaling
Here are some of the benefits of journaling:
- Reduces stress
- Helps manage depression and anxiety
- Helps prioritize fears and concerns
- Provides opportunity for recognizing triggers
- Allows space for positive encouragement and self-talk
Benefits of Writing
If these benefits of journaling aren’t enough to convince you to pick up your pen or pencil, did you know there is evidence that simply writing down intentions and revisiting your goals can significantly improve your mental state? Here are some of the benefits of writing:
- Improves blood pressure levels
- Improves mood
- Increases feelings of well-being
- Improves functioning of immune system
- Improves memory
Keeping a special therapy journal, or a journal dedicated to assisting you on your therapeutic healing journey, can increase awareness and insight. Writing can also be used as a tool to reset or de-stress during or immediately after a challenging situation. Writing can be used to interrupt negative thought patterns and reintegrate the brain to find helpful solutions. According to the Center for Journal Therapy, an education and training center whose mission is “to make the healing art and science of journal writing accessible to all who desire self-directed change,” journaling is a healthy therapeutic tool for healing, growth, and change. This therapy journal training center offers the following suggestions for journalers:
- Keep it private.
- Meditate before you write.
- Date each entry.
- Keep and re-read what you write.
- Write quickly.
- Write without censoring or editing yourself.
- Give yourself permission to tell yourself the truth.
- Write naturally in a way that works best for you.
Writing can be an essential part of a holistic approach to healing.
Journaling Is a Rule-Free Zone
One of the coolest things about journaling, whether you’re just beginning, dabble once in awhile, or have been writing consistently for years, is that there are no rules. As you embark on journaling, you may like to consider the following:
- Will you use dedicated journals for a specific focus or an all-purpose-anything goes journal?
- Will your journal be lined or blank?
- Will there be prompts or quotes, or will your journal be bare and reserved only for journal entries?
- Will it be a private diary with a lock kept in a safe place or are you comfortable with someone reading what you write?
- Will you handwrite your thoughts and feelings or type them into the computer?
- Will you write for yourself or share your writing on a blog for accountability?
Remember, there are no rules; the possibilities are myriad. Search around for what suits you and write on.
Journaling Tips and Techniques
If you’re open to beginning a focus journal (see tip seven) or a therapy journal, and receiving the benefits of writing, may the following techniques provide encouragement for developing a sustainable journaling practice. Whether you are handwriting daily in a lined journal, starting a blog, or creating a special ritual, here are some tips for how to implement this healing practice into everyday life.
1. Free Write
Set a timer for 10, 20, or 30 minutes and let your thoughts flow. Put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard and enjoy a process called stream of consciousness. Write with abandon! Instead of censoring yourself or writing with a goal in mind, write for the mere act of writing. You may notice you repeat yourself or you get blocked. If this happens, take a breath and keep writing. Write your name! Write “I don’t know what to write.” Write, write, write. You may discover you have lots to say. When you are through, read what you have written and highlight any notable findings.
2. Write a Letter
Write a letter with absolutely no intention of sending it to the person or people you wrote it to. If you’re going through a divorce, breakup, or healing trauma related to a relationship, write a letter to the person involved. (Reminder: DO NOT SEND IT.) It can be helpful to write the letter, read it aloud to yourself or a friend, and then burn it. If you’re dealing with loss or a death, write a letter telling the person who has passed how you feel, what you miss, what you learned, what you forgive or can’t forgive yet, and how they’ll live on through you.
These letters are for YOU. If you’re dealing with addiction, fear, anxiety, grief, or depression, write a letter to these big, heavy concepts. Tell your anxiety to get lost. Ask your addiction to leave you alone. Thank depression for stopping by and send it on its way. In her book Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert addresses a letter to fear as practice before embarking on any creative endeavor. If you’re looking for some motivation, pen a cheery letter to joy, bliss, optimism, positivity, or perseverance. If you enjoy this practice, you may wish to start a dedicated therapy journal in which you keep your letters.
3. Write a Manifesto
A manifesto is a personal or public declaration of what you stand for, your core values, and a call to willingly act on your beliefs. Taking the time to think about how you intend to live your life can help give your life meaning and direction. Dedicate some time to thinking about and writing out your priorities. Get motivated and inspired by any insights from your therapy journal, morning pages (see below), or big life goals.
Once you’ve drafted your manifesto, write it or print it out on a beautiful poster and keep it posted where you’ll be reminded of, and guided by, your intentions daily. Next step? Live it!
Bonus: Stand in front of a mirror and read your personal manifesto out loud.
4. Write Morning Pages
Begin a daily practice of writing three pages each morning. In her book The Artist’s Way, poet and playwright Julia Cameron suggests this “apparently pointless process” as a vital tool for recovering, reinvigorating, and harnessing your creativity. Cameron explains, “put simply, morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of consciousness . . . they might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions.”
Note the date, time, day, and location at the top of each journal entry. When you complete a journal, go back, read your pages, and highlight any insights and any action to be taken. Not a morning person? Do yours midday! Or make them “evening” pages. Instead of making excuses, try it for 30 days and see how it goes. The idea is to show up, commit to yourself and your dreams, and make healing a habit.
5. Write Yourself a Birthday Card
Write a birthday letter to yourself with your personal dreams, desires, and goals for the next one, five, and 10 years of your life. Write down any insights you’d like your future self to remember. Address it to yourself and sign it lovingly. Hide it away and open it on your birthday for a check in! Birthdays can be tender, vulnerable times as well as outstanding opportunities to consider if you’re living the life you dream of.
6. Write Your Goals
Start considering radical ideas for creating balance in your life and work towards them with gratitude. Creating and nurturing goals is one of the best uses of journaling. Set some goals using a list format and watch your dreams become reality. Begin by writing down three to five big life goals. For each big goal, write down three to five small tasks you can do each day to support and work towards those bigger ideas. Remember, SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable/achievable, relevant to your life, and time-bound.
Bonus: After you finish writing, keep your journal open and practice one sun salutation per goal. In The Body Keeps the Score, doctor and researcher Bessel Van Der Kalk explains that moving the body mindfully helps to release trauma from your body and brain. Make space for inspiration and the motivation to follow through on your new goals by directly creating that connection with bodily movement. Remember to cool down and enjoy savasana to integrate your goals into your body.
7. Keep a Focus Journal
Yoga teacher and author Elena Brower says, “Early on in recovery from any trauma, deep grief or addiction, shifting your smallest daily routine can make the biggest difference in your success.” Begin to track your personal cycles through a dedicated focus journal, or a special place you keep track of anything you’d like to shift in your life. Keeping a daily food diary, using an exercise journal, tracking your changing feelings through the day, noticing your rhythms as they connect to the moon, writing each morning in a dream journal, or listing three things you’re grateful for each evening can jumpstart your healing.
8. Use Prompts
Sometimes it can be challenging to know where or how to begin writing. You may ask yourself, “What do I write about?” Using prompts or questions can ease you of this potential block in your reflective journal. Begin by replying to the prompt. Later, go back and read what you’ve written to highlight themes or action items.
The following are 23 prompts to get you started. Try one each day for 23 days or dive in one lazy afternoon to tackle them all! The prompts followed by ellipses are invitations to complete the sentence as many times as you’d like.
- What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
- Write a love letter to the world.
- If I’m really honest. . .
- What I do every day matters more than what I do once in awhile, so today I. . .
- Imagine you’ve got a whole day to do everything you love. What would this blissful day look like?
- I drank a sunset. . .
- How are you feeling right now?
- I am. . .
- I feel. . .
- I do. . .
- I love. . .
- I speak. . .
- I see. . .
- I understand. . .
- What won’t let you be? What imbalances can you identify in your life?
- What causes fear to arise when you think about the future? What would you do should what you fear come to be?
- What causes happiness to arise when you think about the future? What could you do to create more happiness in your life as you are living it right now?
- It angers me that. . .
- I wonder. . .
- Write your own obituary.
- The best adventure I ever had began when. . .
- If I wait to be ready, I’ll never. . .
- I want. . .
Journaling is beneficial for the mind and spirit. Whether you’re new to this healing practice or seeking some inspiration to sustain you, start now. Healing from loss, trauma, addiction, or any of life’s daily challenges is hard work. May you find solace in the pages of your journal and trust your pen to guide you on your way. Happy writing!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.