Is It Really Just Writing? How Journaling Improves Your Mental Health

Annemarie Andre
Reviewed by psychologist Ida Dommerholt
A woman writing a journal.
Instagram flat lays, washi tape and marker pens: that’s what we tend to picture when someone mentions bullet journaling. But this technique can be much more than just making something look pretty! Journaling regularly can help you to sort through your thoughts, reduce stress and anxiety, as well as identify and break negative habits.

 

Journaling has scientifically-proven benefits and has been used as a form of therapy in the USA since the 1970s. Studies show that journaling alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to research, writing makes it easier to process trauma – which has a positive effect on the immune system. In this article, you’ll learn more about the ways that writing can benefit your mental health and get to know popular journaling methods, such as bullet journaling, so you can get started right away.

 

How journaling affects your mental health

 

Did you have a diary as a kid? Then you’re probably already familiar with the principles of journaling. The difference is that with journaling, you’re not writing about your daily routines, you’re focusing on your inner journey. You can ask questions like: “How do I feel today?”, “What did I do well today?” or “What went badly today?”

 

“The key to success is total honesty,” says psychologist Ida Dommerholt. Because it’s only when you’re being honest with yourself, and not just trying to sound good, that you’ll be able to objectively recognise your feelings, insecurities, thoughts, behaviours and fears.

 

“When you write about events that triggered a particular set of emotions, you automatically take a step back and observe the situation from a distance,” explains Ida. Analysing these feelings has a positive effect on your general well-being. We’ve put together a list of some of the many benefits of journaling:

 

1. Reduces stress and anxiety

 

Journaling allows you to get your negative emotions off your chest. By confronting them, you get better at recognising the connection between your behavioural patterns and emotions. Journaling also has a cathartic effect. By addressing your strong feelings, you free yourself from their burden and this leaves more cognitive brain capacity for other things.

 

2. Improves your sleep

 

Journaling gives you the opportunity to write down your problems and to let go of everything that has built up over the course of the day. As part of your evening routine, journaling can be very freeing, putting a stop to any ruminating before you go to bed.

 

3. Increases your self-confidence

 

Journaling is about creating some order from the chaos of your emotions. By repeating it regularly, you’ll reinforce your identity. Your self-confidence will increase, and you’ll feel stronger.

 

4. Helps you identify your goals

 

Some journaling techniques, such as bullet journaling, place a great emphasis on the future and achieving your goals by living a structured life and practising mindfulness. Documenting your feelings will also make you aware of what matters to you in life and what is less important.

 

5. Trains your memory and IQ

 

Who would have thought that journaling also improves your memory and IQ? When you write down your feelings, your brain doesn’t have to process as many sensations and emotions, which means it’s better able to focus on other things – this improves your memory. Studies have also shown that there is a correlation between writing and intelligence. Your vocabulary and ability to express yourself may expand when you journal and this, in turn, has a positive effect on your IQ.

“The key to success is total honesty.”

Haven’t got enough time? Make journaling a habit

 

Since there aren’t any rules when it comes to journaling, you can start however you like. Just remember to actually address your feelings – not what’s on your schedule – and to make it a regular habit. “I look at journaling as a form of mental health hygiene – the equivalent of brushing your teeth,” explains Ida. “Five minutes of journaling can be part of your evening routine.”

 

It’s also important to pick a journaling method that works for you! Because otherwise you’ll quickly feel overwhelmed and give up.

 

From creative to time-saving: Popular journaling techniques

 

1. Bullet journaling

 

Once a method to help people cope with ADHD, it’s now found its way onto countless Instagram feeds: The bullet journal, also known as the bujo, is the most famous journaling method. But what is bullet journaling? There’s definitely more to it than just washi tape, marker pens and Instagram flat lays. The bullet journaling technique was invented by designer Ryder Carroll, who used this method as a student to manage his ADHD better.

 

As the subheading of his book suggests – Track your past, order your present, plan your future” – bullet journaling is about structuring your life and transforming vague intentions into goals through daily routines. You can use this method in any notebook.

 

To start with, all you need to do is create a quick table of contents, so it’s easier to find things, and then organize your pages. You can create lists for the different areas of your life and track your productivity.

 

Ryder Carroll also works with daily and monthly entries, as well as logs for the future. The daily entries are a way of quickly taking stock of your day. After a month, you can analyse your entries and carry everything that helped you across to the next month. In the section about the future, you can collect ideas and projects that you’d like to tackle in order to grow as a person.

 

You can keep your bullet journal minimalistic or make it bright and creative – whatever helps you to live your life consciously, instead of just going through the motions.

 

2. Free writing

 

Is bullet journaling too much work for you? Maybe you’d even find it stressful to take on another project like this. Then the tried-and-tested free writing method by Natalie Goldberg might be of use to you. For this, you’ll set a timer and just write flat out without editing any of your sentences or revising any of the passages as you go. It’s about keeping your writing hand moving and outrunning your inner critic.

 

Do you sometimes find yourself thinking about what you need to buy later? Not a problem, put that down on paper too. Free writing can help you get started with journaling and develop a routine. This method is also an incredibly powerful tool for processing mixed feelings or releasing repressed emotions.

 

3. Gratitude journal

 

Are things not going quite how you’d like them to? Everything could always be a bit better, couldn’t it? When you indulge in negative thoughts too often and you find it difficult to think positively or to see the good things in your life, then gratitude journaling

 

can help you. Writing down nice moments has a positive effect on your mental health, and it helps you to recognize what you want to do more of and what you want to stay away from.

 

4. Morning pages

 

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a morning person to journal first thing in the morning. Like with free writing, morning pages involve you writing flat out without making corrections. The goal: Three pages each morning. With this method by Julia Cameron, you’ll shake off that morning brain fog and gain more clarity for the day ahead.

 

At first, it will probably feel a bit strange to incorporate journaling into your morning routine, but after a while, you’ll learn to enjoy this quiet and productive time.

 

Interested to know how journaling can bring more mindfulness and clarity to your life? Soon, you’ll be able to download our handbook “The Ultimate Guide to Journaling”, where we’ll introduce some more journaling techniques and provide 19 journaling prompts.