When I re-read some of my journal entries from last year, I remember the many times I didn’t know whether to run, cry, or start breaking things. With police brutality, the pandemic, quarantine, toilet paper hoarding, job insecurity, and non-stop news about the stupid things people do and say, I would not have been able to cope if I didn’t slow down to write and breathe through it all. Journaling is one way to relieve stress, set goals, and lower anxiety or frustration about a particular situation. With the world turned on its side, keeping a journal may be the best form of self-care right now. Why? It can be done in quarantine, it's free, and you don't need the internet. The best part? Research shows journaling can also improve your health, focus, and mindset.
Journaling is tied to improving immunity
With all the fear around getting sick, journaling might be a way to keep up your body's natural defenses. Language researcher and psychologist James Pennebaker, says keeping a journal strengthens T-lymphocytes, which are the body's immune cells.
Journaling can help with stress relief
When stressed, we regress. This may be why you’re feeling like you are having mini-meltdowns or tantrums similar to those you had as a child. Feeling restricted or facing the unknown can cause a lot of stress, but journaling can help. One study, done at Penn State in 2018, proved that journaling lowered mental and physical distress, especially if the habit was sustained over a month. While spending so much time indoors, this seems to be the best time to disconnect from the internet for a bit and start writing.
Journaling is a form of mindfulness
In times of change and challenge, it is often hard to keep your mind from jumping all over the place. Journaling may be the best way to clear the mind, especially if done first thing in the morning. Julia Cameron, author of the book, The Artist Way, recommends “Morning Pages” as a way to do this. She recommends three pages of stream of consciousness writing within the first 45 minutes of waking up. Why she does it: "The pages clear my head and prioritize my day. I think of them as a form of meditation."
Journaling makes you happy
Just like exercising increases endorphins, research also shows that writing can do the same. When you write about a past experience, you relive it, so if you write about an experience that you are grateful for, you are sure to relive that happy feeling all over again. Maintaining a gratitude journal may be one of the best ways to keep your spirits high when feeling low.
Writing is a way to clarify your thoughts and set goals. Research shows that writing down your goals makes it more likely that you will achieve them. And, if you track your experiences in a journal over time, you can also measure your growth and progress along the way.
What if you don’t know what to write?
With journaling, you can write about anything and it remains private. You can write your goals, letters to yourself, or even daily prayers. The goal is to let go and trust the process. If you write in the morning, try the morning pages and write whatever pops into your mind. If you write before bed, then keeping a record of what you are grateful for each day in a gratitude journal could be the best way to end the night on a positive note. If you would like to try something more creative, you could respond to writing prompts that you create or find online.
Where to find a journal
Any notebook can serve as a journal, and there are so many options based on your personal style and preference. But, if you want to invest in a journal that is “insta-worthy”, try Effie’s Paper or Copper and Brass. For a more conservative style, check out the offerings by Chandra Greer.