Journaling is Medicine for the Mind

4 min read  |  March 26, 2024  | 
Disponible en Español |

Journaling is different from writing in a diary. Of course, your journal can be a place to express private thoughts. But, the act of journaling can also be highly therapeutic. A purposeful journaling practice can help you better understand your reactions to others and certain situations while you learn to self-regulate your thoughts and behaviors in a healthy way. 

No one is judging what you write in your journal. 

If you don’t enjoy writing or if you think you aren’t good at it, don’t worry. Expressing yourself in this way can become part of your routine that you look forward to, a calming practice to benefit and better yourself.

“Journaling offers a private space for processing your emotions, gaining insight, and fostering personal growth,” says Elisa Diaz, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist with the University of Miami Health System. 

“You can discover and benefit from an outlet for your thoughts. Regular journaling offers insight into patterns established between your thoughts and emotions, and it fosters healthier coping mechanisms, such as reactions to stress. It also assists people with self-regulating their thought patterns, which activate automatic thoughts.

“It can also normalize self-talk, which people sometimes believe is unhealthy,” she says. “Journaling’s adaptability enables therapeutic expression, personal growth, and self-reflection.”

Regularly journaling may help you with: 

  • emotional expression
  • stress management
  • self-reflection
  • problem-solving
  • goal setting
  • boosting your creativity
  • discovering and expressing gratitude
  • memory improvement
  • self-regulation, particularly with unwanted/disruptive thought patterns

How to start your journaling journey

Because of journaling’s potential to help people of all ages process their emotions and improve their sense of well-being, Dr. Diaz often recommends this self-care practice to her patients. 

“I suggest starting with establishing a consistent routine and creating a safe, non-judgmental space for writing,” she says. “I encourage them to write freely without worrying about grammar or spelling, focusing instead on expressing their thoughts and feelings honestly.” 

You may prefer “free writing” or “stream of consciousness” writing, allowing you to express yourself openly on paper without limits. Or, you may find it helpful to focus your writing in response to questions, prompts or exercises. 

“I find it helpful to collaboratively assess with my patient if they would respond better to free writing or guided prompts. Additionally, deciding which form of journaling might be the most productive depends on the individual’s task or goal. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) exercises can assist with maladaptive thinking patterns (false beliefs and irrational thoughts) and are usually assigned in the form of guided writing or prompts.”

If you are curious about journaling and don’t have the support of a mental health professional, start anyway. Dr. Diaz suggests making it a part of your daily routine, even if you only do it for a few minutes a day.

“Prioritize self-compassion and non-judgmental self-expression,” Dr. Diaz says.

Tap into free and low-cost resources, like online articles, books, and journaling apps that offer guidance and inspiration if you are starting a journaling journey on your own.

Use your journal to unlock and express feelings of gratitude.

Take a moment to think about what you’re thankful for. Some days, this can feel challenging, even though it typically enhances feelings of well-being and satisfaction. Being grateful can get easier if you regularly write in a “gratitude journal.”

“A lot of people suggest journaling when you’re in cancer treatment,” says Ashlee Cramer, whose son Michael is a cancer survivor who received disease treatment and wellness services at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System. “People go, ‘oh, pisssh.’ But it really does help. 

“Every day, even when going through treatment, knowing that your life is threatened, we can still find three things that we’re grateful for,” she says. “Some days, [my son] would write things like, ‘I’m grateful that I woke up today.'”

But who has the time?

If prose isn’t your forte or if you feel too busy to slow down, try using voice recordings on your phone or a journaling app. These tools offer convenience and flexibility. 

“It may also be worth exploring the things that you don’t like about journaling/writing,” Dr. Diaz says. “Explore the potential barriers that stop you from having a few moments in a day to write.” 

Remember the therapeutic benefits of journaling, like stress relief and emotional clarity, which can bring peace and positivity to an otherwise difficult day. Plus, it’s normal if journaling feels awkward at first.

Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UHealth’s news service.

Tags: Dr. Elisa Diaz, express emotion, journaling, process emotion, Writing for health

Continue Reading