Journaling: The biggest hug you can give yourself

Writing about big feelings can help you feel more in control and capable of coping — ultimately improving your mood.

Centre for Mindfulness Studies 3 minute read February 9, 2022

When it comes to self-care, journaling may have the biggest return on investment. Taking a pen to paper will pay out in all aspects of life — emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.

Declutter your mind

Recording the inner workings of your mind helps to reorganize your story and prioritize your needs. Your feelings are meant to be felt, and by writing them down, you are not only authenticating your experiences, but you are also literally moving them somewhere else, easing the commotion in your mind. And less mind clutter allows greater focus on the real work — planning, execution, decision-making and problem-solving. It also creates the ability to be present and live in the moment.

Creating an outlet

Dr. James W. Pennebaker and Dr. Joshua M. Smyth, pioneers in expressive writing, say that confronting personal thoughts by writing can influence our basic values, thinking patterns and feelings about ourselves. Harbouring negativity without creating an outlet to disperse it can significantly degrade our mental and physical wellbeing, according to Pennebaker and Smyth, who co-authored the book, Opening Up by Writing it Down.

Writing about grief, sadness, loneliness, anger, and fear can ease emotional pain, even though expressing it can be hard to do. Writing about the big feelings will make you feel better able to cope and more in control, ultimately improving your mood. It honours the feelings, but limits the power they have over your life.

Journaling also lets you tell your story privately, with no judgement. In fact, some people buy into the ‘write and rip,’ or ‘burn after writing’ philosophies because the benefit is gained through the writing experience and there’s no risk of exposure.

Health benefits

Some argue the biggest pay off from maintaining a journaling habit is the investment in your physical health. Research shows that the journaling gain is not solely psychosomatic, but it strengthens the lymphatic system too, boosting immunity, decreasing depression and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep and healing chronic pain.

Even simply keeping a gratitude journal can elicit positive health benefits in as little as two weeks of starting a regular practice — but you need to do more than simply identify what you are grateful for. Rather, according to Dr. Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University, and the creator and facilitator of The Science of Well-Being — a course designed to help boost happiness and productivity — says that it’s more about re-experiencing what you are grateful for.

Journaling is an accessible, personal journey tailored to what resonates with you as you find your own journal vibe. GETTY

Make it a habit

The benefits of journaling are cumulative, and couched in consistency, so rewiring the brain for this to become a habit is important. And while it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, one thing is certain: there is no one right way to journal. It’s an accessible, personal journey tailored to what resonates with you as you find your own journal vibe. Give yourself that great big hug as you consider the meditative mind-clearing therapy of journaling — the return on your investment will be huge and you deserve it.

Katy Miller is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, Canada, with an interest in mindfulness, growth mindset and child development.