By Donna Kane, MA, CT
“I thought journaling was for little girls.”
“I’m not a writer.”
“I don’t have time to write in a journal.”
“I wouldn’t know what to say.”
As a longtime grief clinician for Jewish Community Services, I frequently encourage people to use journaling to decrease grief symptoms and increase feelings of well-being. Time and time again, however, the responses I receive are those of uncertainty.
The great thing about journaling is that anyone can learn how to do it. Journaling is not the same as writing where you tend to think about format and perfection of the end result. Instead, you are giving yourself the opportunity to just be in the moment – to feel and process.
Skeptical? Sound too good to be true? There is science behind this claim. Journaling engages the left side of the brain, which is analytical, and allows the right side of the brain, the creative side, to roam free. This has been found to:
- Boost mood
- Enhance overall feelings of well-being
- Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Clear the mind and release stress/let go of negative thoughts
- Allow the safe and calm examination of fears and anxieties
While journaling in and of itself is a positive activity, there is a difference between writing in a journal and effective journaling. Effective journaling can:
- Clarify and help to meet goals
- Improve quality of life
- Increase self-awareness
After reading three months of my own journal entries, it was obvious to me that I was thinking way too far ahead and missing the day-to-day moments that made me smile and/or feel thankful, so I started a gratitude-specific journal. My clients – who are coping with the death of a loved one – have shared insights about their experiences with journaling. One person said journaling helped them feel grateful for the time they had with their partner rather than focusing so much on what they lost. Another commented that by reading their journal they were able to recognize several incidents where their anxiety was actually worse than the event they were concerned about. And other people have noticed they had more control of their emotions after journaling on a regular basis.
If you are interested in journaling, here are some suggestions for making your journaling meaningful and effective:
- Write in the same place each time you journal. Be sure it is a private and distraction-free environment.
- Aim for writing once a day and try to do it at the same time each day.
- After journaling, take time to reflect and recalibrate before continuing with your day.
- Keep your journal private.
Journaling really works – for adults and children. Teachers can encourage students to keep feeling journals to help students get better at recognizing and identifying their emotions and the emotions of others. Vacation journals can be a fun way to engage students in effective journaling and to help them engage and bond with classmates by sharing stories. A daily prompt will give students an opportunity to write and reflect.
No one needs to be an accomplished writer to benefit from writing down their thoughts and feelings. Give journaling a try. There is very little to lose (maybe a few minutes each day) and there is a lot to gain.
Donna Kane, MA, CT is a Grief Clinician 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.