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Personal journaling is the act of writing down what you have done, or thoughts and emotions that you experienced over a period of time. It could be journaling about a trip that you went on, reflections about a particular subject of interest or processing your everyday experiences.

Journaling can support you to:

  • Identify what goals you would like to achieve and support you to do so
  • Become more self-aware and notice disruptive thoughts
  • Release any pent up emotions that are generated over time
  • Confront your fears and intrusive thoughts in a safe space
  • Process events and reflect on your thoughts throughout the day

It is a long-held belief that the expression of emotions is linked to positive mental health while the inhibition of emotion is harmful. The disclosure of emotions allows for the expression of emotions and the release of associated tension. The exploration of emotions combined with the processing of facts and thoughts related to a stressful event can help you develop greater awareness of the event itself and also see positive benefits of the stressful event.

Journaling has been found to be particularly effective for people who suffer from PTSD. Writing about experienced stressors or traumatic experiences has been linked to numerous benefits including decreased stress, reduced visits to the doctor, positive changes to immune functioning, self-reported health, psychological wellbeing, physiological functioning, and general functioning (Ullrich & Lutgendorf, 2002).

Journaling is also effective for people who suffer from depression and anxiety because it allows for a release of negative emotions and reduce intrusive thoughts. It also allows you to become aware of your triggers and support you to explore how to tackle them.

In order to get the most out of your journaling take note of the following tips by Baikie and Wilhelm (2005, as cited in Ackerman, 2020):

  • Be sure to write in a comfortable, safe space
  • Write consecutively over a period of time
  • Give yourself time to reflect on your writing after you are done
  • Journal what you are comfortable with, don’t feel obliged to write down stressful things or events if you don’t want to
  • Your journal is your personal, private space; do not share it with others

Journaling should not replace professional help however it can be an additional help you explore different problems further. It can be recommended by therapists to support you in between sessions. Topics that come up while journaling can also be shared with a therapist during a session as a way of exploring a topic further.

Journaling is a habit, and like any habit, needs to be given the required space in your schedule and takes time to be built. Once begun it can support you on a journey of self-discovery in a creative, meaningful manner that can be life-changing. Have you ever considered journaling? Do you have any reservations? Why not give it a try? Happy journaling!

Petra Borg is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy from the Gestalt Therapy Institute Malta (GPTIM) and working at Willingness as a Trainee Psychotherapist. She has experience as a Triage Officer and has also worked closely with Willingness over several years, coordinating the international internship programme and providing support over diverse events and initiatives. 

References:
Ackerman, C. (2020). 83 Benefits of journaling for depression, anxiety and stress. Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/

Ullrich, P.M., & Lutgendorf, S.K. (2002). Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 24 (3), pp. 244-250.