Mental Health

7 Reasons To Keep A Journal

Stuck in a rut? Reaching for a pen and paper could have a transformative impact on your happiness and health

Journalling has never been hotter, but as life moves faster, is it really worth taking the time? “In terms of its ability to transform your life, there isn’t a better tool,”says Caroline Johnstone, author of the newly-published Dare to Be Happier: An Introduction to the Power of Journalling (£12.99, Eddison Books). “A diary is more or less a summary of what you’ve done on a particular day. Journalling can touch on that, but it’s much deeper. If you’re journalling right, it’ll help improve your life.” Two simple rules apply – always be honest, and seek outside help when attempting to work through trauma – but a heap of benefits await those starting their first Journal…

1. Enjoy the journey

“For me, journalling’s a great tool for slowing down and living a mindful life,” says Caroline. “It’s got everything to do with self-care. We live very frantic lives and we’re always connected – I’m massively curious and I could live life with my phone always in my hand. With journalling you can really tune in to what’s actually going on in your life. What really matters to you? What makes you happy? What are you feeling? We don’t stop to live our lives – but we can slow things down and understand what our priorities are. It’s a way of helping you live a mindful life.”

2. Process feelings

Working through difficult emotions is an important step to breaking their hold on your life. “Journalling can be like having a conversation with someone who knows you well,” says Elena. “By putting thoughts down on paper, you start to process them. As you write, other perspectives can emerge. It can be the start of a journey to process emotions; depending on what you’re working through, journalling can be the main tool or just one component in the process.”

3. Cope amid upheaval

If you’re going through a tough time, starting to keep a journal could help you gain a new perspective on your emotions. “Journalling is something that we often recommend in therapy,” says consultant psychologist Dr Elena Touroni (thechelseapsychologyclinic.com). “It’s a useful tool to create a little thinking space, and a mental distance between yourself and a difficult situation. When we’re going through a traumatic time, our thinking often becomes stuck; emotions might feel unmanageable or overwhelming, and we can end up ruminating. What we try to encourage people to do with psychological therapy is lift themselves out of the situation, so they can reflect on what they’re experiencing. Journalling, like mindfulness, gives us the chance to reflect on what’s going on in a considered way.”

4. Change habits

“If you want to live your best life, you have to figure out what that is and start making those choices,” says Caroline. “We let our lives pass by in a flash – you can’t afford to live on auto pilot.” For many, that might mean taking control of our bodies. “The psychological effect of monitoring your progress has staggering results on weight loss as it reassures you that your hard work is equalling results,” says personal trainer Chloe Twist (origympersonaltrainercourses.co.uk). “If you work towards your goal aimlessly without keeping track of progress you’ll be more likely to give in, but journalling provides an alternative to this vicious circle by keeping you motivated.”

5. Make healthier choices

Want to change the way you feel within your own skin? “A journal acts as a nonjudgemental insight into your relationship with food and exercise,” says Chloe. “You can oversee how far you’ve come and remember the pitfalls you’ve had without fear of judgement, then tweak things to push yourself even further. Remembering where you used to be compared with now, acts as a great motivator and means you’ll be much less likely to spiral into old habits,”advises Jackie.

6. Tune in to your inner wisdom

“We’ve got so used to following gurus, going on courses and asking friends what they think,”says Caroline. “The more I see people use journalling, the more I realise they nearly always have the answers themselves, even if they may not want to face them. Journalling gives you something no other tool gives you in the same way, which is insight – into what the real issue is, or why you’re not doing anything about it. Then you can make a plan.”

7. Understand your own past

“Reading an old journal can be tremendously useful some time after an event, because it’s a great reminder of how you felt at a point in time and how you made sense of past events,” says Elena. “The things we go through in our life can also have a rather repetitive quality, so it’s useful to go back – to see how you understand events with the benefit of hindsight.”

Health & Wellbeing