By Shneur Z. Marshall, LCSW-C
Have you ever had a moment when you wished there was someone to listen, someone who would understand? A moment when you felt overwhelmed by the flow of emotions or anxiety and were unsure what to do with them? It is human nature to want to connect and share. Even when you are by yourself, you don’t have to feel alone; your journal can be right there with you!
As a clinical therapist, I frequently recommend journaling to individuals who are looking for an outlet to express their thoughts and feelings. Here are 10 benefits of journaling that I’ve seen:
- Expressing yourself: Journaling your thoughts and feelings is a simple way to express yourself. There is something magical about expressing your thoughts which relieves you from the immediate intensity of bothersome feelings.
- Going from infinite to finite: As you write, you have an opportunity to formalize your thoughts into words. When you think about your feelings, they may seem insurmountable, but when they are written and specified, they are no longer infinite. They are now defined and reduced to more realistic dimensions. Of course, you may experience several feelings simultaneously, but with journaling, you can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.
- Getting it for free. The exercise of journaling is free and unlimited. No copays, deductibles, or out-of-network fees!
- Being available at any given time. Even in the middle of the night, your journal is available at your convenience.
- Having an open listener: Your paper and pen are amazing listeners. They never talk back. When we know we are being “heard,” we begin to consider and express things that we did not consciously consider previously. This creates new depth in your expressed thought process.
- Keeping things private: Your journals are very private and will never repeat your secrets to friends or family. Journaling obviously does not replace meeting with a psychotherapist, but in some ways it may feel even more confidential since your dialogue is with yourself.
- Tagging the logical brain: Journaling can assist you in identifying the cause(s) and source(s) of your feelings. Once you identify the source of your feelings, you can analyze it from a distance in a way that is more productive than when it was a fleeting thought. Now you can shift from your emotional brain (limbic system) to your rational and logical brain (frontal lobe).
- Doing cognitive work later: Once your thoughts are written, you have opportunities to look back, to think about what it was that made you feel the way you did. If there is a specific cause, you can choose to challenge yourself and perhaps understand the incident differently. You can also decide to respond differently next time.
- Staying calm: Emotions can run quickly and can be overwhelming. Naturally, you cannot write as quickly as you think, so the process of writing can slow down your thinking and create an internal calm.
- Embracing self-awareness: When you journal and think thoroughly about yourself, you will become more self-aware and insightful about yourself and your struggles.
In recent times, when many of us have been separated from our families and friends and have endured significant changes, we may have experienced higher levels of stress, a sense of loss or even grief. Journaling can be a very useful tool to help us move forward in a productive manner. Go ahead, try it.
Shneur Z. Marshall, LCSW-C is a Clinical Therapist at Jewish Community Services
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.