By Kristi Hugstad
Do you ever feel like your days blur into one big to-do list you can’t keep track of? You have to meet school deadlines, go to club meetings, work, hang out with your friends, spend time with your family, organize your desk and room, exercise, read, and so on. Have you ever felt stressed-out because, no matter how much you try, you are always behind and overwhelmed? To avoid this, here is a simple solution: journaling.
If you’re busy and overwhelmed, why add one more thing to do? Because journaling makes you more organized and efficient and can even help relieve your stress.
Most journaling experts talk about two different types of journaling: journaling to achieve professional success and journaling therapy to improve your mental health. The former would be writing down what steps you need to take to be a restaurant owner, for example, and creating a rough outline and calendar of milestones to reach in order to achieve your goals. An example of the latter would be to write down a painful memory — say, of the day your parents announced they were divorcing — as a way of untangling complex, difficult feelings.
This form of self-examination has been around a long time, and it is a powerful practice. If you want inspiration, definitely check out the many journaling blogs online, some of which are geared specifically toward high school and college students. Journaling can help anyone, regardless of age, education, interests, or writing skill.
Let’s talk about how journaling can positively impact your mental health. Journaling connects you with your inner self and helps you develop good habits of self-reflection. When you journal, you are communicating only with yourself. Your journal is a safe place to be honest, to be your authentic self without worrying about being judged. This is what makes it different from posting on Instagram or talking to friends, when we often filter ourselves to avoid judgment or we present an idealized version of ourselves. Instead, journaling allows you to connect with and learn about yourself, to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, and to consider how to improve yourself. By writing your thoughts, intentions, actions, behaviors, goals, and dreams, you get to know what makes you happy and what makes you sad. You learn who and what drain you emotionally and who and what make you happy and confident. Writing helps you examine and understand emotions when you aren’t actually feeling them, so you can see them clearly.
Writing down your feelings and engaging in self-reflection is a necessary habit for good mental health. When you journal about your anger, sadness, and disappointments, you openly express and release any intense feelings and thoughts. You offload negative thoughts instead of carrying them, making your mind more peaceful. Writing about and reflecting on your emotions helps you identify stressors and feel empowered.
Journaling can also improve your self-esteem and self-confidence. Studies have shown that writing about stressful events and life traumas helps with grieving and makes us feel better not only psychologically but physically as well.
Journaling can also help you achieve goals and dreams, both personally and professionally. Keep in mind, journaling is not just reflecting on the past. It is about planning for the future. Journal about long-term goals, such as studying abroad, moving to a different city, going to graduate school, and your career. Do you want to become a doctor, writer, scientist, dancer? Write about what that means for you — more than once — and reflect on the steps you need to take to get there. Just like writing a daily to-do list, this makes your goals tangible and concrete. The simple act of writing down tasks makes you feel more organized and motivated to achieve them.
As you journal, you may see where and when you waste time and how you can manage your time better. Several studies have reported that people who write down their goals are more productive.
In addition, when you journal, even though you are just writing for yourself, you will improve your writing skills. Journaling allows you to write in a safe, no-pressure environment. Further, if one of your goals is to be a published writer or blogger, journaling can serve as a stepping-stone to larger writing projects. Since writing and speaking are connected, writing helps strengthen your verbal communication skills. Putting your thoughts down on paper (or on a screen), organizing them, and strategizing what you will say, helps you talk more concisely and clearly.
These benefits aside, when you write in your journal, you physically reduce the impact of stressors on your body. A small number of studies have shown that journaling can improve our immune system and can serve as a stress-management tool. As we all know, stress is the root cause of many human diseases.
As you can see, writing regularly can help you grow and release the potential that lies within you. Journaling can make your life both easier and happier. As you build a habit of self-reflection through journaling, it improves all aspects of your life. Mapping your future puts you on track for success. When you list your goals and write down your plans, they will seep into your actions. When you write about your past, painful emotions will be given verbal expression and released, which leads to healing. It’s like talk therapy, but the person you are talking to is yourself. You bear witness to yourself and thereby learn more about yourself and about your relationship to society and the world. It is in self-reflection that we grow.
Here are some tips on how to incorporate journaling into your life so that it becomes a regular habit.
Get the tools
Some people like to write in a notebook. If you are one of those people, get a brand-new notebook. It does not need to be expensive. If you want, creatively decorate the cover; add drawings or color, or stick on pictures or inspirational quotations. Some people like to journal on their tablet, phone, or computer. Experiment with pen and paper and digital journaling and see which one you enjoy more.
Commit to journaling at the same time every day
Just like developing any habit, try to journal at the same time every day. Many people journal right before they go to bed. Journaling before bedtime may help you sleep better because it clears your mind. It will also make you think about what you did during the day and how you can improve. Some people journal right after they wake up or while having their breakfast because writing energizes them for the day. However, if you miss your dedicated time, just journal at another time, and if (or when) you miss a day or two, don’t be hard on yourself. Just restart.
No matter how or how much you write, have fun with it. If journaling starts to feel like a chore, play around, switch your approach, and experiment. There is no one-size-fits-all type of journaling. Remember, just because it’s a habit doesn’t mean it always has to be the same. Sometimes, write only a few sentences; other times, go deep into details and analyze an event. Find the style that works best for you.
Write about anything, whatever comes into your head. Don’t have any expectations, and don’t edit. Remember, you are the only person who is going to read your journal. Don’t try to write a certain amount. Some days you may write paragraphs and some days you may write a few sentences. Writing itself is the goal, not the amount or the stylistic quality. Pick a time, and just write.
Kristi Hugstad is the author of Be You, Only Better: Real-Life Self-Care for Young Adults (And Everyone Else) and two other books. A certified grief recovery specialist and a grief and loss facilitator for addicts in recovery, Kristi frequently speaks at high schools. She is also the host of The Grief Girl podcast and lives in Orange County, California. Visit her online at https://www.thegriefgirl.com.
Excerpted from the book from Be You, Only Better: Real-Life Self-Care for Young Adults (And Everyone Else). Copyright ©2021 by Kristi Hugstad. Printed with permission from New World Library .