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Journaling this, journaling that: Detailing journaling, its benefits and how to go about doing it

Photo by Hannah Jacobson on Unsplash
Photo by Hannah Jacobson on Unsplash

Words by: Asanda Madi

What’s it all about?

Journaling is one of the most cost-effective ways of self-care. It is paired at the top of the hierarchy alongside meditation and other grounding exercises. However, a number of people get stuck because of no structure, no method and no rhythm. Others struggle with pacing their thoughts and might feel overwhelmed as they try to get everything on paper. And therefore, the practice becomes ineffective and sometimes an additional stress. Nonetheless every article we read about taking care of ourselves and reflecting will advocate for journaling. Ever wondered what the big deal is?

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You are the best project you’ll ever work on.

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Officially, the founder of writing therapy/ (journaling as we now call it) was James W Pennebaker. However, journaling is a practice that has been linked back to at least 10th century Japan. Successful people throughout history have kept journals. The likes of presidents have kept them for their posterity; other famous figures have kept them in order to write memoirs amongst other purposes.

19th century playwright, Oscar Wilde said: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train”

The rise of technology has led to a rise of journaling apps which are very useful. However, people are less likely to write lengthy entries on their smart phones. Smart phones make it convenient to write up difficult emails or texts whilst still managing our emotions and even other thoughts on the go. But there’s still nothing like pen meeting paper, right?

The act of writing utilizes your left brain which is the part of the brain used for more analytical and rational tasks. The task of journaling therefore occupies your left brain while your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. Thus, making journaling useful for removing mental blocks and allowing one to use all of their brainpower (right and left) to better understand yourself and the world around you in a more succinct manner.

Writing has also been found to be beneficial as it is fundamentally an organizational system.

Some of the more obvious benefits of journaling or expressive writing are a boost in mindfulness, memory and communication skills. The less obvious benefits include better sleep, a stronger immune system, more self-confidence and a higher IQ. Additionally, keeping a journal helps to organize an event in our mind. When we do that, our working memory improves. Since our brains are freed from the enormously taxing job of processing that experience which helps people sleep better.

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For us. Circa 2014. The full note to self says: "Please keep in mind that no one can love you as much as you do. If you fall in love with yourself first, flaws and all, you will be able to exude beauty, kindness, and love to others. There are too many instances where we expect to find our love in someone else. Look inside yourself for adoration, confidence, and esteem. You owe yourself the love that you so freely give to other people.” . . I haven't read this in years, and wow, I needed to. I didn't know how much these words would still resonate many moons later. Writing to heal has shown me the importance of self-validation and self-love. It's not a whimsical or easy process. It's hard as hell. I am proud of us for trying our best even when it's challenging to press forward. I see you. . . Thank you all for the outpouring of love around After the Rain. It's been out an entire week, and the messages and pictures and excitement mean more than I can start to explain. Keep them coming! Initially, my main goal for this book was for it to get on the NYT Bestsellers list. As a black woman and writer in this literary space, that felt like the most important (next) step in my career. But over the past seven days, that goal has shifted. Ultimately, I want this book to be a timeless collection of hope and resilience that people continue to return to over and over again. That folks share with loved ones, near and far. I want @aftertherainbook to be dogeared and marked up and highlighted, over and over—laughed through and tearstained. I want it to be a companion for your healing in book form. I want it to remind you that you're not alone. So, the next step in my career isn't to get on a list, but instead, continue cultivating community in authentic ways. I love y'all. Thank you for supporting my work. . . PS. My last 4-week journaling course of the year opens for registration on 11/1. Link in bio to get on the waitlist. This quarter we are focusing on "Reclaiming Resilience." I cannot wait to journey with you all again in November. . . PPS. If you've enjoyed ATR, please consider leaving a review. If you do, LMK. I have a special treat for you.

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Reduce stress:

Research has concluded that writing about emotions assists in reducing the intensity of those feelings. Thus, writing about anger, sadness and other painful emotions helps to release the intensity of these feelings, helping one to feel calmer.

“There is increasing evidence to support the notion that journaling has a positive impact on physical wellbeing. University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you to come to terms with them.” – Maud Purcell

Clarifying your thoughts:

When you are experiencing muddled up feelings or thoughts, taking a few minutes to jot down your thoughts can quickly assist you to get in touch with yourself.

Self-awareness (know yourself better):

Through writing routinely, you get to experience a regular check-in and time for reflection. There are so many aspects of our relationships and our way of being in the world that are predicated on our self-awareness. For example, you cannot set boundaries if you’re not self-aware. You need to know yourself to know what makes you uncomfortable. Through being self-aware, you will become clear about situations and people who are toxic for you.You cannot set boundaries if you don’t know yourself.

Problem solving more effectively:

Problem solving occurs through largely utilizing your left brain. However, an answer to a problem can also 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.

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Resolve conflicts with others:

Writing about misunderstandings rather than stewing over them will help you to understand another’s point of view. However, this needs to happen in a guided manner.

Resolving trauma:

Research has frequently found that journaling about trauma is one of the most effective ways to resolve it. Dr Pennebaker’s research found that journaling about traumatic or disturbing experiences specifically has the most measurable impact on our wellbeing.

“Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind,” says Natalie Goldberg.

In his landmark 1988 study, outlined in his book “Opening up: The healing power of expressing emotion” students were randomly assigned to write about either traumatic experiences or superficial topics four days in a row. Six weeks after the writing sessions, those that had delved into traumatic experiences reported more positive moods and fewer illnesses than those writing about everyday experiences.

In my work with trauma I have worked with a number of patients who found it hard to narrate a traumatic event. When you think of it, it’s really not easy saying that you were raped or that your child was murdered in front of you. Anticipating a response from another person as well as just getting the words out can be a nerve wrecking experience. Several patients therefore choose to write about a traumatic event and either have me read it in their presence or leave it with me to read and discuss it in our following session. And this is understandable. I have seen the impact of journaling both from my own patients and clients as a psychologist but additionally I have seen several other people who haven’t been to therapy who have vouched for the effectiveness of journaling.

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