Writing thoughts and feelings down in a journal builds bridges to self-understanding, inner strength and mind-body awareness.
Through the years, famous artists and public figures have used journals to reflect on their private lives and record historic events. The therapeutic potential of reflective writing though only came into public awareness in the 1960s, when psychologist Dr Ira Progoff, began offering workshops on his Intensive Journal method, followed by the publication of his book At a Journal Workshop. In recent years, due to extensive research, medical and therapeutic communities have begun utilising journal writing as a holistic non-medicinal method for wellness.
Here, we look at seven types of journals that can transform nearly every area of our lives and how to get started.
“It’s about articulating what’s important to us, what we want more of, including realising what’s going right for us in the face of life challenges,” explains Kris Deminick, life coach at This Electrified Life. New research confirms that an attitude of gratitude not only inspires positive thinking, improves health and general wellbeing but also leads to increased altruism – that’s selfless concern for the wellbeing of others.
» Write three to five things you’re currently grateful for daily.
» As you progress express gratitude for something you perceive as negative until you’re able to cultivate a positive mental attitude.
“It can help awaken your creative spirit, especially if you don’t consider yourself to be artistic,” explains Lucy Allen, career and confidence coach at The Graceful Collective.
“The combination of both visual and written expression allows you to explore your imagination, plus [it] activates both the right and left hemispheres of the brain, strengthening the communication between them.”
» Cut images from a magazine, use your own pictures, or ephemera.
» Letting your intuition guide you, make a collage or drawing.
» Continue adding layers using other art materials or words until you feel it’s finished.
“It’s a great way to re-capture a sense of control over all areas of your life, because in just one single journal you can take down both work-related and personal notes, brainstorm ideas, keep to-do lists, and even plan for holidays or renovations,” says communications trainer Irena Bee. “This unclutters your mind and puts you in the driver’s seat of your present and future life.”
» On the first page create an index of all areas of your life you want to keep notes on.
» Create pages for each month, week and day for at least six months to plan your projects and social life. »
Whether your aim is to deepen your romantic relationship or improve your parenting skills, shared journaling allows you to get to know each other’s emotions especially in tricky situations.
“Effective communication is key to any successful relationship. When we feel embarrassed to say something face-to-face or find it challenging to express a sensitive topic verbally, shared journaling removes the fear or vulnerability around those types of issues,” explains Lucy.
“On top of that it gives us time and space to think through what we’re feeling, to reflect on what the other person has written and subsequently respond,” she adds.
» Get clear on the topic or theme of the journal.
» Agree on the tone – will it be positive or honest?
» Set a timeframe to respond to keep the communication flowing.
In times of stress, trauma or tragedy expressive writing can act like therapy allowing our deepest struggles to come to light and find healing. “When you translate your experiences into words this empties the mind from recurring thoughts and the fear, sadness and anger you hold buried inside gradually ceases to impact you as dynamically,” explains Lucy. A 2017 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine reports that for people going through a divorce, a technique called narrative expressive writing – not just writing about their emotions, but creating a meaningful narrative of their experience – may reduce the harmful cardiovascular effects of stress related to marital separation.
» Write continuously for 20 minutes exploring your deepest thoughts surrounding an emotional challenge and how it’s affected you. You might tie it to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved, or even your career. Repeat four days a week.
“Nature journaling gives you a medium to slow down and focus your attention on the wilderness that surrounds you in that moment,” says Kris.
“In other words, it’s like a natural meditation where you can engage your senses, encourage curiosity and enjoy deep relaxation, which nature is known to induce,” she says.
» Immerse your senses in a familiar or new place and simply list what you’re seeing, smelling or hearing.
» Add sketches, watercolour paintings, photographs, or if you like to hike – measurements of animal tracks or snippets from field guides.
“Logging what you eat helps track mindless food consumption and helps pinpoint which food groups you need to pay more attention to when developing healthier eating patterns,” says nutritionist Fiona Tuck.
A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that women who consistently wrote down the foods they ate lost almost three kilograms more than those who didn’t.
» Document all the food and drinks you consume, the time, your feelings after eating, any allergic reactions, plus what may have prevented you from sticking to your diet plan. ■