There is scientific evidence that writing to yourself in a journal has physical and emotional benefits, but of course I did not know that on July 1, 1988 when I was just 10 years old. Not knowing the lifelong effects it would have on me, I picked up a pen and thin, red notebook from the dollar store, and recorded that day’s events. I did the same the next day and the next. I documented an entire summer’s worth of “It was sunny. We played outside.” And “Today we drove to the States to get gas and then we got McDonald’s!” At first the scribbled messages were short and factual; as the summer wore on they got longer and included more detail. Eventually, as I moved into the next grade, I was confiding deeper things like my feelings and questions and pre-teen confusion. I wrote about fights with my brother, my excitement over upcoming events, nervousness about new scenarios and feeling lonely. Looking back I imagine something Divine guiding me to pick up that pen and notebook on that summer day. I was given a lifeline that carried me through adolescence, early adulthood, motherhood…and even last week. Writing in a journal has helped me in so many ways that I now pass on this gift by teaching its benefits in private and community workshops. As we enter the reflective period of winter and set intentions for the new year, I thought I’d share with you 5 benefits of writing to yourself in a journal.
How Writing To Yourself In A Journal Can Help You
1. Empirical studies have shown evidence that expressive writing (writing for the sake of releasing emotions) can heal psychologically, emotionally and even physically. In fact, in general, people who write in a journal are known to have fewer visits to the doctor, improved immune function and lower stress levels. But how and why? When we write about an emotional event, we are given the opportunity to not just get it ‘out of our system’ but to evaluate it after it has been dumped on the page. We see our thoughts reflected back at us. With practice, it gets easier to take these reflections and look at them objectively. Maybe see another person’s perspective. Or read between the lines and see what’s really going on underneath the surface scenario. Writing to yourself gives you the opportunity to offload and then digest or process the event through a new lens.
2. Sometimes you don’t have to read between the lines. Sometimes you will write something clear, direct and full of wisdom. It might be great insight into a situation, or a conclusive decision about what to do next when you thought you were stuck. There is this part of us that we can access, when we cut through our emotions, and it is both logical and loving. Sometimes it takes awhile to get to that part. Or it can happen in your first journal entry. The key is to let go and write uninhibited, without judgement. And without trying to compose the sentences. To help facilitate this, it’s a good idea to write quickly and continuously without pausing to re-read. (Reading over what we write switches us into editor mode and that’s not a helpful headspace when journalling!).
3. Writing to yourself gives you a chance to really check in. It might well be the only 15 minutes of the day that you stop and ask yourself how you’re doing. Maybe it’s when you notice you haven’t fuelled your body or hydrated, or taken in deep lungfuls of air. 15 minutes when you shut the door and say hello to yourself on the page can do wonders for your relationship with yourself! I sometimes think of it as an exhale. A chance to unwind or to rev myself up for the rest of the day, depending on when I carve out that time. If you think about it, the only person you are guaranteed to have a relationship till the end of your days is you. Nurturing that relationship is important. A pep talk from YOU on the page is sometimes more meaningful than from someone else. As a desi woman, I know there is tremendous emphasis on doing for others: in-laws, children, partners, the cultural community etc. I am dedicating this part of my post to every woman out there who works hard to nurture every relationship known to humankind. And I’m saying, do this first.
4. It’s a space to dream. Since high school, I have used my journal as a place to write down my wishes, hopes and dreams for the short and long term. Sometimes I journal as though I am already in that place and allow the positive vibes to flow into my present day. It’s fun – but it’s also crazy how I can look back and see that many of the things I wrote about have actually manifested in one form or another.
5. And the last one I’ll mention today – these are certainly not all the benefits of writing to yourself in a journal – is the fact that you can go back and read what’s happened before. If you are writing memoir then of course, this is a tremendous benefit. But even if you just want to show yourself how resilient you are, how much you have changed and grown over time, or to point out areas that you still need to work through, journalling is such an incredible tool.
If you have experienced considerable trauma, I would recommend you use this in conjunction with therapies recommended by a trained physician. Many programs include journalling but depending on the degree of trauma, you may need support as you uncover events and emotions in your writing.
Have any questions for me? I’d love to hear in the comments!