The Healing Benefits of Journaling

Some people see or hear the word “journaling” and flee for the hills. Others are intrigued but not sure they’re ready to take the step. Others are neutral, unaffected by encouragement to keep a journal. I am in the camp of avid journalers and have been since age twelve. Throughout the years, my journaling ebbed and flowed, depending on my life circumstances. Most recently, I have journaled steadily since September 8, 2002, and journaling is a daily priority.

Journaling is one of the best ways to explore emotions and feelings, sort through events and relationships, and grow as a person. It moves issues out of my head and onto the page where I can take an objective look at a situation. My journal is my closest friend. I write thoughts and feelings that I cannot express to other people. I learn about who I am, what I want from life, and strategies for solving or managing problems. Difficult emotions and painful aspects of my life challenge me on the page. Journaling supports and sustains me between counseling sessions. I often journal about a session or discuss an entry in counseling.

Journaling requires no special writing skills or costly equipment and has no penmanship rules. You can write anything you choose without attention to grammar, punctuation, or word choices. Write diagonally on the page, upside down, and in the margins. Experiment writing with your non-dominate hand. Make your journal a place to express who you are.

There are probably as many types of journaling as there are people who have a journaling practice. I have identified six basic types:

1. Introspective—an exploration of thoughts and feelings about specific topics or life in general;
2. Reflective—a thoughtful look at experiences and meaningful events;
3. Situational—an examination of one specific event or experience;
4. Gratitude—a collection of those aspects of life that bring joy and thankfulness;
5. Dream—often a rich source of symbols and messages that enhance all of one’s life; and,
6. Spiritual—an introspective or reflective approach to one’s experience of reverence however that is defined in each person’s life. You may want to read books about journaling or research online for articles on types of journaling. I keep all my journal entries together in one series of books whereas some people prefer to maintain a separate book for each of their journaling categories.

When I sit down to journal, I write the day, date, and time of the entry. For subsequent entries on the same day, I record only the time. I write at various points in my day, but some people have a dedicated period. How much I journal varies from a paragraph one day to ten pages the next. Numbering pages helps me when I reread my entries. While daily journaling is beneficial to me, some people find it necessary only occasionally or when a special need arises. Honoring personal rhythms is important. I carry a small notebook with me to jot down journaling ideas when I am away from my book or unable to interrupt another activity.

As you contemplate a journaling session, consider your emotions and what is on your mind. Ask questions. What motivated you to write the entry? What is the lesson in the experience or how can you learn from it? What do you know for sure? What do you want to know more about? If you’re new to journaling, you may want to start your sentences simply—“I want…,” “I’m so angry about…,” “I wish I could…,” “I’m crying about…,” “I’m so happy about…,” etc. Describe the situation in whatever language works for you. Let your emotion fill the page. Stop when you feel relief or when no more words come. Journaling is often done to facilitate emotional healing. Out of the pain comes insight, epiphany, and transformation. But, you also can celebrate the joys of your life in your journal. Happy events can be powerful catalysts for healing.

Your journal may be as simple or elaborate as you choose. You can use anything from scratch pads and wire-bound notebooks to hand-bound leather journals that store in their own box. They come with a variety of beautiful covers and either lined or unlined pages in a variety of colors. Some journals feature quotes or inspirational messages at the top of each page or attractive page borders. To find journals you may want to try, visit bookstores, drug stores, and office supply stores. They also are available from online retailers, but you miss the opportunity to examine before you buy.

Personalizing a journal is easy. I use writeable stick-on index tabs on the tops of pages of special entries I want to remember. I use different ink colors to color-code my entries and enliven my journal and journaling experience. I print or cut out quotes, glue them into my journal, and reflect on them. I save magazine and online articles and blog posts. Some people save movie tickets and other memorabilia. Some people draw or sketch in their journal or write poetry. Colorful shoelaces make fun bookmarks. When you finish a book, move the shoelace to the next book or use a different one for each book or category. I try to put “fun” into functional.

Privacy reigns supreme. Your journals are personal, and you determine how much security you need. Consider your situation and your tolerance for risk and take steps to protect your journals accordingly. Recognizing your comfort level and deciding how you will protect your writing early on in your journaling practice is often easier than trying to institute a system after a security breach. While I am a strong proponent of hand-written journals, you may find a password-protected online journal or document on your computer more suitable. Online, you can choose from several free and premium options. Some people publish their journaling as a memoir while others make provisions in their will to protect their writing. Be wary of anyone who tries to coerce you into destroying your journaling. Make sure it is what you want to do. If someone reads your journaling without your permission, seek ways to protect yourself and your writing in the future.

Whatever your comfort level, I hope you decide to try journaling, perhaps committing to a month, week, or a specified number of entries. You may even want to start with journaling about your feelings about journaling. You may be pleased with the insights you uncover and the epiphanies you experience. May journaling be as comforting, challenging, rewarding, and empowering for you as it is for me.

Happy writing to you.

Billie Wade, writer

Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. The opinions expressed here are her own.