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“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.” ~Natalie Goldberg
My passion for journaling began at the age of ten when my mother handed me a Kahlil Gibran journal to help me cope with my grandmother’s suicide in my childhood home. I poured my fears, tears, and worries onto its pages. I’ve inspired all three of my children to journal, and now, more than five decades later, I continue to journal. I believe that this practice has saved my life on many occasions, including a turbulent adolescence, bedrest with three children, the loss of loved ones, and two bouts of cancer.
The journal or notebook is a powerful tool if you’re a writer, and it is also a tool for wellness. It’s a place to intimately express feelings and emotions, record memories, explore secrets, and transcribe musings. Journaling can help you tap into the depths of your soul. The journal makes no judgments; it is free of editors, critics, and teachers. It is the music and voice of your true emotions. And, journaling regularly can help you with problem-solving and stress reduction.
There is no right or wrong way to journal. The goal is to just get your words down on the page. When you’re beginning to journal, it’s a good idea to write at the same time each day. By doing so, this form of creative expression becomes a habit, as well as an integral part of your daily habits. It’s also wise to date entries so that when you look back on them, you’ll know how you were feeling at a particular time and place.
Here are seven ways keeping a journal can save your life:
- It provides a container for emotional release. The journal is a place to vent your feelings in a nonthreatening way. Its pages are free of judgment and recrimination, which is particularly valuable when going through difficult times. It is a safe and private container for you to gather your feelings and then begin to process them, rather than keeping them bottled up inside. Whether you’re affected by change, loss, or pain, finding the time to journal is vital for your emotional health.
- It helps you on your path to self-discovery and self-awareness. When you write what you’re experiencing and feeling, you’re learning about yourself and what is important to you. Writing about your fantasies and dreams also helps you understand yourself better and will help guide you on your path. The main idea behind journaling is figuring out how to open up and bring awareness into your life.
- It improves your mental health. Sharing your feelings with a journal is cathartic and can make you feel better when you’re blue. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting things off your chest; you can tell your journal anything, and even if you have a therapist and are engaged in talk therapy, journaling can function as a self-care modality in between therapy sessions.
- It helps you tap into your authentic self. It’s important to write from a place deep within you when you’re journaling, thereby establishing an authentic relationship with yourself. The more comfortable you are with your true self, the easier it will be to handle stress. It’s also about trusting your inner wisdom, intuition, and heart. If you do so, your true inner voice will emerge on the page.
- It encourages a grateful attitude. Gratitude encompasses love and appreciation. Writing about and recording what you’re thankful for nurtures a positive and healthy outlook. Studies have shown that people who are the happiest are those who are grateful. It’s also beneficial to look back at your gratitude pages for a boost of inspiration when you’re feeling down.
- It helps identify life patterns. After journaling for some time, it’s helpful to go back and identify certain patterns that seemed to emerge, as they might be interesting to explore at a deeper level. As Eudora Welty once said, writing is a way of discovering the sequences of the experiences in your life. In this way, connections become clear, and you can connect the past to the present to the future.
- It fosters a sense of mindfulness. Being mindful means that you are living in the here and now. Journaling helps you be present because it taps into the messages of your heart and soul. Being mindful entails awareness and interconnectedness between your inner and outer worlds. If you are more awake and alert, you can more easily hear the loving messages the universe is sending you.
Diana Raab, PhD, is an award-winning memoirist, poet, blogger, and speaker who advocates the healing and transformative powers of writing. She’s the author of eight books, is a regular blogger for Psychology Today, and her essays and poetry have been widely published. Her book Writing for Bliss: Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life is due out in September 2017. You can pre-order on Amazon in May.