Journaling to Heal

August 5, 2019

Journal writing is a centuries-old practice of recording experiences and working through feelings. Some famous people, including most U.S. presidents while in office, have kept journals.

Journaling to heal is writing about thoughts, feelings, and experiences to help facilitate recovery from the effects of emotional upheaval. Healing is the process of recovery from the effects of emotional upheaval. Effects of emotional upheaval include depression, anxiety, ineffective coping strategies, and self-defeating behaviors.

Research has shown that journaling to heal has many benefits: mental, spiritual, and physical. You tap into your subconscious mind, your storehouse of wisdom. Journaling engages both sides of your brain, the analytical left side for problem solving and clarity, and the emotional right side for intuition and creativity. When you write, you establish a powerful connection from your brain to your hand, most noticeable if you are using pen and paper. You create an amazing synergy when you journal.

Some reasons to journal to heal include:

  • getting issues out of your head onto to the page where you can explore them;
  • learning about your emotions and feelings and how they are affecting you;
  • sorting through experiences to detangle what happened;
  • decreasing symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health disorders;
  • helping you gain clarity about an experience;
  • showing you your next steps;
  • revealing the nuances of your relationships;
  • fostering a sense of peace and serenity;
  • befriending yourself;
  • easing episodes of physical symptoms—frequency, duration, and intensity.

The only cardinal rule of journaling and journaling to heal is: There are no rules. There are as many ways to journal as there are journalers. You write whatever is on your mind. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and language are your choice. Use spiral notebooks or fancy books designed for journaling, scratch paper or napkins, or an online journal site. A flash drive or a document on your computer may be more your style. You also may use your planner or a calendar. Although pen and paper journaling is the most effective, you may prefer a journaling app, a memo app, or the voice recorder on your phone. Colored inks let you code your entries and enliven your journal. Writing the day, date, and time of your entries help you recognize how an experience evolved. Some people title their entries. Numbering the pages of the journal makes organizing your journaling books a breeze.

The most important rule after write with freedom is to be yourself on the page, be honest with yourself about what you are thinking and feeling. Your journal is personal and private and for your eyes only. If the fear of someone else reading your journal prevents you from journaling or from being honest on the page, your feelings will be short-circuited and your writing less effective. Consider your need for safety and take steps using a method from the previous paragraph to protect your entries. Online and phone apps afford password protection for your entries. Or, keep your journal in a locked location to which only you have access. Your journal is for you only. You, alone, decide what, how much, and with whom to share.

So, where do you start? There are many ways to begin journaling to heal. Here are some tips:

  • Warm up with a mantra, an inspirational or sacred text, or music.
  • Ask questions. What am I feeling right now? What did I experience? What is the problem or issue? What do I need to figure out?
  • Name the emotion or feeling. “I feel so angry about…” “I am curious about…” “I am relieved about…”
  • Describe an experience. What happened? With whom? How did the experience resolve?
  • Celebrate. Write about accomplishments and milestones.
  • Write a letter to yourself or someone else.
  • Make several dedicated journals. Personal Growth and Development. Spiritual journey. Travel. School. Work. Social. A special relationship. Baby book. A memorable event that requires time to unravel or work through;
  • Let your revelations surprise you.

Getting started with journaling to heal can seem daunting. Using the acronym W.R.I.T.E, you will have a template for writing which you can adapt to your style.

Write from your heart. What happened with whom?

Remember, you are the only one who will read your journal.

Include as many details as possible, especially emotional and sensory responses.

Time your writing for five to thirty minutes, then take a break. If you exceed the time and want to continue, do so.

Evaluate what you have written.

“How do I know it’s working?” you might ask. Journaling to heal is unique to everyone. You may experience a shift in emotion or perspective. You may sense several feelings at once—relief, resolution, peace, joy, well-being, clarity, etc. You may not feel the same emotions every time you write. Your emotions depend on the situation or issue you are facing and your perception of the event.

When you journal to heal, keep in mind you are delving into a process. Approach your writing with open-hearted curiosity, wonder, and detachment.

Enjoy your journey.

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