I like to think of a journal as kind of like a bar frequented only by me and a sole silent listener who neither advises nor judges. Anyone who uses one knows how great it can be to have a place like that to unload all those emotions, ideas and events that would otherwise overload and overwhelm us.
If you've ever considered keeping a journal, but haven't started yet, here is a thought that might help motivate you: According to some professionals, journaling has beneficial effects on both body and mind that can help improve your overall health.
Writer Jasmine Maki covered the subject recently with a newspaper piece offering anecdotal evidence from a couple of long-time journal keepers who talk about how it helps them to deal with emotional issues and then move on, instead of carrying that baggage forward into the future with them.
She also references psychologist James Pennebaker, who studies "expressive writing" at the University of Texas in Austin and wrote the book "Writing to Heal." Pennebaker says his research into journaling about emotional events shows a direct link between that activity and a person's overall health.
“When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health,” Pennebaker says. “They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it’s been a very beneficial experience for them.”
The Real Warriors Campaign, a program that encourages veterans to seek help for emotional problems, also recommends journal writing as a way to ease the transition back into civilian life. Among other things, keeping a journal helps relieve stress, increases self-confidence and serves as a sort of self-therapy, according to the group.
On Psych Central, clinical social worker Maud Purcell lays out some other proven benefits of keeping a journal, one of the most interesting being that writing in a journal can help you solve problems that have evaded standard solutions.
Typically we problem solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. But sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging right-brained creativity and intuition. Writing unlocks these other capabilities, and affords the opportunity for unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
The thing about journaling is that there are no specific rules on how you have to do it, or what kind of journal you have to keep. Not comfortable venting your emotions into a journal? No problem. There are plenty of other uses for a journal.
Personally, I use one to stay organized – or as organized as I ever get – and to serve as something of a memory bank of work and daily life events. I also fill a separate journal with writing prompts (story ideas, overheard bits of dialogue, offbeat factoids) to help jump-start my creativity.
In her article, Maki also mentions a study that focused on people who use food journals as a way to track what and how much they eat. According to that study, simply keeping that record helped participants lose more weight than non-journalers. It also helped keep the weight off over a longer period of time.
Whatever kind of journal you want to keep, it's sure to have benefits for you, tangible and intangible. With the New Year coming it, it's as good a time as any to start. And if you aren't sure how, we can offer some ideas on beginning your first journal.