Throughout my lifetime I have journaled on and off and in many formats. When I was younger I had several “diaries” where I wrote out the events of each day as well as all my hopes and dreams. There was a time in middle school where my friends and I would write each other long letters, like 50-60 pages long. I don’t even remember what all we talked about in our long letters, but it was largely rambling about anything and everything. In many ways, our letters were a form of journaling that we just so happened to then give to someone else.
If I’m going through a particularly difficult season of life, journaling is always one of the first things I do. I’ll journal out my prayers. I’ll write about my worries and fears. Sometimes my journals just look like a bulleted list of thoughts, other times I’ll write whole stories. I’ll ask myself questions and try to answer them. I’ll write out Bible verses that speak to me in my current circumstances. For years I have kept a daily gratitude journal in which I write out at least 3 things I’m thankful for every single morning. I also keep a monthly log of things that I’m learning (which I used to share in my monthly wrap up posts).
Journaling takes on many forms and looks different depending on the person and their current season of life and circumstances. Keeping a diary or writing in a journal is actually an ancient tradition that successful people have kept for centuries. Journals can help you keep track of events and circumstances as well as help you work through problems and issues.
I recently read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, which is basically his journal writings after his wife died. In the book, he talks about death and love and grief. He openly struggles with his faith and questions how a good God can allow such terrible experiences. It was so helpful to read his experiences and thoughts right in the midst of his deepest grief. It allowed me to recognize that my thoughts and questions and struggles are a completely normal part of grief. (You can read more about my thoughts on the book in my Instagram post about it. If you are going through a season of grief, I’d highly recommend the book).
But the book also reminded me of the power of journaling in our daily lives and encouraged me to do more of it on a daily basis. There are so many benefits of keeping a journal. Today I want to share some of them with you in the hopes of encouraging you to give it a try.
Recording Your Personal Story and History
This is probably one of the most obvious benefits of journaling and possibly the one that is least convincing for some people, but stick with me. When you journal about your life circumstances and situations you are recording what you are feeling, things you are dealing with, and possibly the lessons you are learning. This allows you the opportunity to go back to your journals at a later time to remind yourself of how far you have come.
One of my friends keeps a prayer journal. On one side she writes out her prayers and the date and leaves the other half of the page open for later. When God answers the prayer she fills in the open side with details on how the prayer was answered and the date it was answered. When she’s going through a particularly dark season of life she is able to thumb through the pages of her prayer journal to remind herself of all the times that God has answered her prayers and provided for her in the past. This allows her the chance rest in the knowledge that God was faithful and good to her in the past and He will be faithful and good to her now as well.
Have you ever had a day (or a week) where nothing seems to go right? Everything is a mess and you are so overwhelmed you have no idea where to begin to try to make things better. Journaling is incredibly valuable in times like these.
When you feel overwhelmed, either by your life circumstances or if you are overwhelmed by upsetting emotions (anger, fear, frustration, etc), pull out your journal and just start writing. Write out anything and everything that comes to mind. Write your thoughts. Write your feelings. Write the stories and circumstances. Just get it all on paper.
Even if you do nothing but write it all out, this simple practice will usually help you to calm down and feel less out of control. Sometimes we just need to vent and to get it all out of our heads and off of our chests. It feels less overwhelming and controlling when we can put words to the swirling chaos inside.
Getting our thoughts and stories and feelings out of our head and onto paper isn’t just a good stress reliever, it also helps us see our circumstances in black and white (or whatever ink color you choose to use). When we journal, we are engaging our left-brain, the rational, thinking, and analytical side of things. But we are also freeing up our right brain to get involved as well. And our right brain is all about creativity and intuition. By using both sides of our brain we can see our problems in a different light and begin to come up with creative solutions to our biggest concerns.
Oftentimes in life, we get so busy doing things and reacting to our circumstances that we lose touch with how we feel, what we desire, or what we’re even trying to accomplish. When we spend some time journal we are able to get back in touch with what we’re thinking, how we’re feeling, and who we are. We can begin to remind ourselves of what we like, what we don’t, and the things we’d like to do.
When you journal and relieve your stress, work through your issues, solve your problems, and create plans for what you want to do with your life your mental health improves. And when your mental health improves, your physical health does too. You sleep better, you have more energy to take care of yourself. Your body isn’t operating under high stress levels so you’re less likely to develop or experience chronic injuries and illnesses.
Improve Your Relationships
Have you ever had a disagreement with someone that you stewed about for days? You constantly cycled through the same arguments and frustrations in your mind and just got more and more upset. Writing out your frustrations helps to calm you down (as we’ve seen in the previous paragraphs). When you aren’t quite so angry and upset you can examine the disagreement in a new light and you might just begin to see a peak of the other person’s perspective to help you come to a resolution.
Understand Yourself Better
When you repeatedly take the time to write out your thoughts and feelings you will begin to recognize some repeating patterns. If you notice that the thoughts you are thinking about yourself are constantly derogatory and negative you can begin to see why you might regularly be feeling down and depressed. Or, on the flip side, you might begin to recognize the types of experiences and activities that actually make you feel confident and happy. As you pay more attention to yourself and truly understand yourself better you can begin to make changes in your life that will allow you to bring the best version of yourself to your everyday life. And that my friends, is the entire point of this blog.
Today’s Action Step
So, now that you know why you should start a journal, I challenge you to grab a pen and some paper and just write. Write whatever comes to mind. It will take some getting used to and it might feel awkward and uncomfortable first, but the more you practice the better you will become and the greater impact it will have for you.
Next week I will share more of the in’s and out’s of how to journal. I’ll share different journaling types and formats to give you more ideas to play around and find what works best for you. Journaling is entirely personal, so what is best for one person will be different for another. There is no “right” way to journal. So give it a try this week and be sure to come back next week for some new ideas.