Healing power of journaling

Writing down one's thoughts and feelings can be therapeutic. Words are powerful tools to self-discovery, healing and empowerment

Woman writing in her diary / journaling

Writing a journal is like having a conversation with the self. Delving into your personal history, insights and dreams gives you the opportunity to come to terms with significant events in your past. You also have the chance to move to a better understanding of the person you were, and have become.

When you write about a past event that has blocked you, you release the blockage and let life flow more freely. Honesty, however, is paramount in journal writing. You cannot hide yourself behind your own words.

Wound unwound

A journal is the only place where you're totally, absolutely and completely free to be yourself. It is the perfect refuge for the many irritations, conflicts, disappointments and stresses life throws at you. It allows you to ramble with no sense of direction, to indulge in cliches, to be irrational, and to lament.

"The most important thing," says Eldonna Edwards Bouton, author of Loose Ends: A Journaling Tool for Tying Up the Incomplete Details of Your Life and Heart, "is not to judge yourself or let any other critics, real or imagined, into the room when you write. If you're intimidated by a blank page, begin by asking yourself: 'What do I need?' or 'How do I feel about ______?' Use 'I feel' instead of 'I think,' when you write, so the inner knowledge comes from your heart instead of your head."

Release of words

The benefits of journaling are many: it helps release and review emotions; it provides a safe space to explore difficult issues and relationships; it helps you refocus on your place in the journey of life; it assists in creating an action plan to improve the quality of your life, and [re]discover your dreams, goals and strengths.

"When you release your stories on page [or, a screen], you make room for new truths. The page listens without judgement. At times, your journal may be the best friend you have. Write as if no one will ever read your words, but you. Within the safety of your pages, you face your demons and, suddenly, they lose their power over you. Don't hold on to them, either. Turn the page. Forgive. Move on," says Bouton.

Researchers have found that people who write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding upsetting events have stronger immunity and visit their doctors half as often as those who only write about trivial events. Holding on to feelings of anger and grief stops you from experiencing life to the fullest. Sometimes, writing a letter to someone who has hurt you is the closest you can get to closure. It is a way of letting go of the past, so you can begin to live in the present.

Journal Rules

Journaling allows you to reassess life events, be it trauma or triumph. Your words cannot change the past, but they can provide a context in which you understand it better and master the lessons that lie within or without. The idea is to write about the good and the bad, so you don't end up sounding like a miserable person with a lousy life. The secret is to find a healthy balance between the positive and the negative.

There is no right or wrong way to begin a journal. Just take a deep breath and start writing. As an initiation exercise you'd like to begin with a dedication to someone who impacted your life. Or, work with a theme: dreams, nature or people.

Write a letter to a person you have unresolved issues with. Record a slice of family history. Preserve the priceless tales of your past. May be, you'd like to write only for yourself. The purpose is to open up that valve of honesty and channel your innermost thoughts, feelings, desires, frustrations and dreams into your journal. Saving a journal entry, or trashing it, is entirely up to you, but the process is an invaluable release of emotion.

How and where do you start your journaling practice? First, have a journal and pen in place. Next, get started: your first day of school, your first memory, your first crush, or your first period. Write with a pen that feels good in your hand and leaves you wanting to write more. Allow your thoughts to unfurl on paper. Think of times that work best for you. Is it the calm freshness of early morning? Or, would it be the stillness of the night and its chores put to bed? Whatever time you choose, shut the outside world and its chaos out. Listen to the quiet within. Meditate on paper. Dating each entry provides a context and helps you see how far you've travelled on your writing journey.

Get, set, go...

  • Set a regular time for journaling everyday. Promise yourself you'll write for at least 15 minutes 3-4 times a week
  • Don't worry about spelling or grammar, right and wrong. Just write anything that comes to your mind freely
  • It is okay to write about the same thing on the 3-4 days you've set for yourself. Or, write something new each day. The choice is yours
  • If you feel uninspired, look for writing prompts to nudge your thoughts
  • Find a quiet spot, a place where you're not likely to be interrupted, and retire there daily.

... and, have fun

  • Look for one incident of remarkable beauty during the day and write a paragraph on it
  • Write a list of 3-5 best things and 3-5 worst things about your day
  • Use coloured ink to write on different pages. Or, colour-code your entries depending on your mood
  • Write a letter to anyone/anything that displeases you during the day
  • Add patterns, or borders, to highlight, or create page divisions.

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