The healing power of journaling

photo by Bobby Pursey

photo by Bobby Pursey

There is a healing power to journaling. It is a simple way to cut through the constant chatter of the mind and access something deeper.

Through the healing power of writing, we can work through our superficial thoughts to reach a place where understanding, clarity, insights and ideas come to the surface. Journaling can have physical and emotional and benefits too.

In Writing to Heal, James Pennebaker psychologist and researcher at the University of Texas at Austin explains how expressive writing can improve health. While Beth Jacobs, Ph.D. shows how journaling can help gain relief from emotional problems in her book Writing for Emotional Balance.

There are no rules to journaling. You can do it whenever you want and as often as you choose. Write whatever you find helpful and use any type of book. You can write in a stream of consciousness where you just let the words flow. Or you might like to write to answer a particular question that has been bothering you. You can write on a computer or by hand. If you like, you might try using your non-dominant hand for added connection to your intuitive side. In fact, you don’t even have to write: you can doodle, draw, mindmap, make collages, stick in found objects or photographs. There is no right or wrong way to journal but here are some tips that other journalers have found helpful in getting started.

Use a notebook that is nice, but not too nice.

We want our journal to be attractive but if it is too nice, expensive or beautifully unique we may be afraid to write in it for fear of spoiling it. Choose a pretty but inexpensive notebook, exercise book or sketchbook or buy a plain one and decorate it yourself.

Keep the book somewhere very safe

Your journal is for your eyes only so have a special place to keep it safe. You can’t be free and uninhibited in what you write if you fear discovery. Some journalers use a code for very personal notes and, if the content could cause major repercussions if read, it is okay to destroy the words after writing. The important thing is that they have been expressed.

Keep writing

When we begin to write, we often come up with mundane ideas and find ourselves commenting on the weather, what we have been doing or things we have to do. To access deeper ideas and insights it is often necessary to keep working through these boring parts to reach something richer and more profound.  So try to write for at least twenty minutes to allow your busy mind to wear itself out and get bored. This will create space for something more to emerge.

Write as often as you wish

It is not necessary to write every day and for this reason, I would avoid using a diary. Being too strict about the practice can make it seem like school work and your monkey mind will resist doing it. The more often you can do it though, the more you are likely to benefit, so try to make it fun. Write while listening to music, drinking your favourite tea, using coloured pens or other art equipment. Write in the garden, the woods on a bus or in a cafe.

Try not to get stuck

If you find yourself dwelling on a particular area of life without moving forward then it may be time to start seeking a solution for that problem or to let it go to allow space for something new. When you come up against a really painful issue seek further help from a counselor if necessary. If you are just stuck in a rut and new ideas are not forthcoming then change your practice. You could change the time, location or method of working until the ideas begin to flow again.

Resources

Jacobs, Beth (2004).  Writing for Emotional Balance. New Harbinger Publications

Pennebaker, J. W. (2004). Writing to heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma and emotional upheaval. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Press.

 

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