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A Guide To Journaling

What A Journal Can Mean To You & Your Loved Ones

Journaling is a common activity people enjoy participating in. As an individual action, there are benefits and psychological advancement in writing down one’s daily occurrences and feelings. There are many ways to journal, (that don’t all involve writing) and many reasons why one would want to journal. What can journaling mean to you and your loved ones?

It is a way to keep in touch with your feelings and thoughts, which is very healthy mentally. Having a safe, positive mentality benefits yourself and those around you.

Journaling or keeping a diary of personal notes and stories is known to be very therapeutic. Plus, it is truly an exercise for everyone, including those who physically cannot write or even young children.

Journal writing can help children process feelings, build writing skills, and communicate their ideas. It encourages children to grow while discovering open-ended writing. 

This article will engage in the sentimental and mental health value of journaling. Taking some psychological twist to understanding the great value of this exercise, there is much to learn about keeping a diary of thoughts and daily events. 

What Is Journaling?

Over the past couple of decades, dozens of studies have shown that certain journaling practices can positively impact a variety of outcomes, including happiness, goal attainment, and even some aspects of physical health. 

Sources like PsychologyToday has addressed journaling as a significant addition to a person’s mental health. As a deep, emotional topic for some, journaling does not have one simple definition or meaning. It means something different for everyone.

To categorize the practice, though, we can note is as a form of self-care. It has become a hallmark of this so-called self-care movement in the past few decades. This along with other activities like meditation and reading self-reflecting books from the “Healing and Spirituality” section at Barnes&Noble has become popular in modern-day life.

Let’s take a deeper look into the actual practice. Journaling as a basic module is effective writing. Writing is fundamentally an organizational system. According to acclaimed doctors, keeping a journal helps to organize events in our mind and make sense of trauma.

Sometimes, if you solely rely on inner thoughts in the brain to acknowledge even small daily events, it is not as healthy mentally as actually “seeing” them on a page physically. When we do this, our working memory improves, since our brains are freed from the enormously taxing job of processing that experience, and we sleep better.

The act of channeling mind to muscle connection is what journaling really entails, and it’s a phenomenal thing to incorporate into your day to day life.

Why Do People Journal?

This topic is not a light one to take on. Journaling is psychological and spiritual, activating different parts of the biological brain and matter that can effect someone’s well being and life. Knowing these scientific effects help us to better understand why people choose to journal.

POSITIVE IMPACT ON HEALTH

In the past few years, research has hinted that a cognitive mechanism may help explain the link between expressive writing and health. Let’s look at research studies and how psychologists have developed reasoning behind these ideas: From the University of Iowa, Philip M. Ullrich, M.A. and Susan K. Lutgendorf, Ph.D. conducted a study focusing on Journaling about stressful events.

It went like this: one hundred twenty-two students were randomly assigned to one of three writing conditions: (a) focusing on emotions related to a trauma or stressor, (b) focusing on cognitions and emotions related to a trauma or stressor, or (c) writing factually about media events.

Their research confirms already before the experiment that writing about stressful or traumatic events has been related to decreased distress and depression, along with fewer illness-related revisits to physicians. Taking care of the brain’s cognitive and memory-based function positively impacts not only the brain, but your entire body and its overall health.

This is because it has been proposed that expressing trauma-related emotions in a safe environment enhances feelings of control and mastery over the traumatic event. Journaling in a private book, technological device or form of expression like art or music, creates this safe space researchers speak of.

Others that tackle this topic have also stated that the effects of disclosure are best explained by processes that involve both cognitive processing and emotional expression. After traumatic events, it is the positive growth out of feeling negatively about what happened that is important for bodily and mental function for optimal health.

So, according to these models, the adjustment to stressors by opening up expression helps to cope with emotional reactions and balances those with deliberate cognitive work.

GOAL SETTING & ACHIEVING

People also like to journal as a way of achieving goals. The physical nature of outlining your goals and motivations is known to help actually have them come true. Writing these things down keeps better track of your intentions.

It helps you stay accountable and serves as a reminder of what needs to be done. This can look very specific or more broad, but most times, experts advise to be specific and detailed in order to truly identify those goals.

Imagine this practice as a form of self-care and growth and the confidence that can come with. People also like to journal to see their progress on certain topics. Great progress immediately equals a serious confidence boost. 

IMPROVES WRITING & COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Journaling or diary writing also improves writing and communication skills. Self-care practice comes in all shapes and sizes, this is just another positive that comes out of journaling every day.

Communication skills are an essential part of life. Finding ways to enhance that skillset truly adds to the reason why something like journaling exists. 

PAVES THE PATH TO INSPIRATION

Along with the topic of achieving goals and keeping track of them, journaling adds to the creative process of huge ideas that require notes of inspiration.

Leonardo da Vinci drew beautiful invention ideas into his journals along with whatever he wrote during that time. The art and notes were his way of brainstorming and letting his imagination run wild. This is a particularly good example when we speak of why people would journal. 

KEEPS TRACK OF EVENTS & EMOTIONS

In terms of dealing with stress or a traumatic event in one’s life, journaling keeps track of those moments too. If you be honest in your writing, managing anxiety, PTSD, depression and other triggers. Even though this process of healing and understanding can be difficult, it can be relaxing and de-stressing overall.

Coping with traumas by connecting with them in a new light is a significant reason why people opt for journaling more times than not. It is personal that does not require speaking to others about their stress or problems.

And although writing in a book does not speak back to you with advice or answers, sometimes, the answers you’re really looking for lie between those lines of vulnerable, freestyle writing. The triggers and symptoms of medical or more serious problems also come through with this type of tracking. It is a way into someone’s inner thoughts. 

LEAVES BEHIND A LIVING LEGACY

One other thing: just like in the books and movies, finding old diaries and journals of past loved ones is such a bittersweet feeling.

Keeping a journal that you wrote in can be just as significant as actually writing in it! The memories that exist within writing and art is something truly irreplaceable.

You can leave behind a written legacy of your life that friends and family can read in the future. They can better understand you and your thoughts when that time comes. Perhaps whatever you had wrote about on sensitive, serious subjects can help other loved ones in that future, too. 

What Are The Different Types Of Journaling?

Journaling can come in many shapes and forms. It is about the act of expression and openness more than anything that adds to the purpose of this activity. Physically writing is the best way and most common type of journaling, but this may not be ideal for everyone.

If your preferred form of expression is art, for example, drawing or illustration is a great start! Even without paper and pencil, now with technology there exists programs and softwares that you can purchase and make digital journals on a computer. 

ONLINE JOURNALING

If writing is your thing but a physical pen and paper journal is not, then there are similar programs that exist online. Sometimes all it takes is a word document or Pages program on a Mac computer that allows for WIFI-free access and usage that opens up a world of ideas on a blank page. Online writing is easier for some who prefer typing and editing out their thoughts.

You can organize and save each document according to dates or topics as well, which sometimes in a book you don’t have the ability to do. Here is a list of apps for digital journaling: 

These apps have many things in common even though they are slightly different in styles of functionality. For example, they have reminders that keep users in touch with the challenge and discipline of journaling. A lot of the time, this practiCe is not easy to keep up with in the beginning. Remembering to do it is a challenge in of itself!

They also have exporting settings that allow users to move to a different platform or just save in a different format like PDF or RTF. They sync and keep up with the days that the programs are in use, as well, no matter which device you are using. Although not all the apps are free, the prices are affordable. Journaling shouldn’t be expensive, and these apps are quite reasonable with that.

Additional features that you may look for in digital journaling programs are password protection settings, Markdown support and the ability to add photos, location and weather tags.


VIDEO JOURNALING

There is also video journaling. Another newer style of expression is through camera and microphone. This can even be called “vlogging” which is where individuals document their day-to-day lives through video clips with narration and expression. Seeing and listening to yourself or others dictate their feelings or daily events open up new doors for journaling.

Voice memos is another version of this that just does not include facing a camera. It is also common, before cell phones and computers, for people to use tap recorders or devices that record voices and sounds into the product.

Now, this idea is still alive just with a twist of using your cell phone or other portable device. It allows for easy thought spilling that takes less effort compared to writing. Writing can be draining for some people, so having video diaries or voice diaries is another great option that even brings together a more personal thought of hearing voices.

Imagine finding recordings of a past loved one and hearing their voice come alive once again…it can be a monumental thing and have a positive impact on the grieving process.


SCRAPBOOKING

Similar to having a sketchbook as a journal, scrapbooking is also a popular style of documenting memories and thoughts. You may associate it with just pictures and captions, but it can be much more than that.

Sometimes the act of finding scraps of magazines, books, quotes, etc. that represent your feelings and thoughts for the day can really go a long way. It all still counts for expression and helping the mind relive itself of any distress or clouded thinking.

Once again, physically seeing your thoughts in an aesthetic way that is more than just words is a great option for many. You can purchase scrapbooks at any arts and crafts store. Any large book with blank pages offer a beautiful, open place for imagination.


DOCUMENTED MEMOIR

The book Tuesdays With Morrie written by Mitch Albom is a perfect final example of one last type of journaling. Not everyone can physically or mentally get as far as creative expression on their own.

Physically, maybe you are sick or injured and writing is not possible anymore. In this book, the main character Morrie is sick with ALS. The book is narrated by Mitch, as it’s a memoir, about a series of visits he makes to Morrie and he documents each visit, writing things down that Morrie says and teaches him.

When Morrie passes, it is those journal entries that carry on his legacy and intelligence. Having someone like Mitch to write for you is always an option.

How Do You Journal?

With all of these notes on the purpose behind journaling and different ways it can be done, there is now the conversation about actually getting started. How does one journal? Is there a proper way to do it? Is there a certain routine to keep on track?

Truth is, there is no special recipe for something so creative and personal. Still, there are tips and tricks experts have researched and studied that keep the practice strong and mentally beneficial.

STEP 1: "MORNING PAGES" IS NOT FOR EVERYONE

You may have heard the idea of writing or journaling in the morning with a stream of consciousness style. This is meant to serve the purpose of filling pages with the freshest thoughts of the day, with whatever the brain thinks of instead of focusing on documenting event by event.  This is a great strategy, but not everyone can follow it.

Maybe you need a few cups of coffee before starting such a focusing task. Maybe documenting moment by moment of your day is better than just spewing thoughts on a page. It all depends on the individual meaning behind each journal entry.

Therefore, choose which time of day you prefer. Morning pages  or Night pages? It’s up to you. Even mixing it up is a great way to get started and see which you prefer.

Writing in the morning lets you plan out your day and reflect on how you’ll deal with any challenges that may occur in the following hours. But then evenings are good for reflecting back on the past day and what you may want to do different the next day.

STEP 2: MAKE SOME GOALS

If you are the type to need true motivation for something, setting goals and having some accountability for tasks is important. Something like being motivated by a group of like-minded people pursuing the same goal can apply to journaling, too! If this sounds up your alley, there are online challenges and competitions for writing goals and prompts that guide people to reaching their journaling goals.

The energy of a whole group all trying to do the same thing individually is one of the best tips experts have. Even without a set group or challenge to follow, setting your own goals for the week or month regarding writing and journaling is possible. This is where the trait of good discipline comes from with these types of tasks.

Along this topic, it is significant for continual progress to make small goals and keep expectations realistic. If you have never journaled in your life, expecting to write every day at the same time with perfect effort is not very realistic.

Having high expectations can make you lose hope if you do not match them. This is a standard practice of knowing its ket whenever you’re building a new habit to be realistic with goals and plans.

What does healthy self-motivation look like? Narrow down your goals and when one goal feels like too much, figure out how to minimize it. If writing for 30 minutes a day feels like too much, condense it to 15 minutes. Little adjustments like that can make the world of difference for maintaining practice.

STEP 3: KNOW YOUR PURPOSE

Along those lines of having goals, having a purpose is just as necessary. Sometimes to maintain a habitat, securing a reason behind the task keeps you going even more.

Your purpose can be to deal and manage grief and produce a good healing process. Your purpose can be to relieve yourself of nagging thoughts and decrease internalized stress. Everyone is special with this and outlining a singular purpose to always look back on is proven to be a great start to journaling.

Knowing your purpose can also tell you when it's best to journal. For example, if your purpose is to release nagging thoughts that exist in your head throughout the daytime, journaling at night may be a great option. This is because you can then transfer those thoughts out of your head before bed so they escape that trapped feeling deep inside the brain and heart.

STEP 4: CHOOSE YOUR MEDIUM

We outlined many types of journaling. Choosing one or two is a necessary step in starting your journey with this. Some people can be obsessed with sticking to one medium like one particular book to write in, or one app to use for typing. 

Do not worry if your thoughts are sporadic through a few mediums, the best thing is that you are journaling in some form. Of course, the best version of this is to find one medium that suits your needs right. Consistency is easier when there is organization.

STEP 5: FIND THE OPTIMAL ENVIRONMENT

Similar to finding the best time of day to write or journal, finding the best location can make or break this new habit.

Some people thrive in possible loud, crowded settings like coffee shops or parks. Others need absolute privacy and quiet, so their bedroom or secluded areas in public.

Trying out new environments here and there is also a wonderful thing to experiment with. It can keep your ideas fresh and motivation strong. If you feel uninspired, the first thing you should do is changing environments.

STEP 6: WRITE FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

To start off, think of journaling as the most secure, private version of yourself. Connect to the privacy of having a space for just you and no one else. Even though we can think of family members reading old journals when we are gone, this thought lingering as we start the habit of expression can get in the way of honesty.

The goal is always to be honest with the pages or screen ahead of us. When you write in hope (or fear) that others will read your words, it becomes harder to write truthfully and express your real emotions.

You won’t write for self-awareness but to impress others or to prove a point. This is why many online apps and programs require a password to access journals. 

What Are Some Topics For Journaling?

What exactly should you write or sketch about? Writer’s block is quite common and can hither the habit of journaling every day or at a good pace. Sometimes the blank page is uninspiring and difficult to track out of.

With too many thoughts and no words to express them…or no real thoughts to even take place out of your own head, sometimes we need prompts to get the journey going. Every day of journaling is a journey within itself.

JOURNAL ABOUT LIFE EXPERIENCES

Experts like to analyze an individual’s experiences and guide from there. Topics like breakups, the loss of a loved one, or serious change in life exhibit secure ideas to start with.

Breakups for example can cause emotional and mental instability that leaves people feeling lost and hurt for weeks, months or even years. From teenage heartbreak to divorce or long-distance struggles, any serious change involving two people is cause for journaling those feelings out.


JOURNAL ABOUT NEW BEGINNINGS

Similar to this idea is journaling new beginnings. You can even organize journaling in such a way that distinguishes each new phase in a new book, app or video. A new job or new relationship or new house opens so many doors for expression.

These monumental moments can be positive and experts advise that writing about positive things is a wonderful exercise for mental health and adjustments. Think of it like a family photo album for their yearly summer vacations. Each book of pictures is designed for each experience, and when they go back to look at those memories, everything is divided chronologically.

Therefore, topics like these can be their own entire reason to journal to keep track of new things that happen, or, to move on from a past experience and put the book away when the time is right and well. 


JOURNAL ABOUT YOUR GOALS

Let’s talk about goals again: this is a popular topic within the journaling world because of how much successful people raid about keeping track of their goals to reach high levels in life. Since a journal is evidence of past success, it is a good idea to sit back with those old journals and idea books to read about your past success and failures.

Topics for goals can include long term and short term ideas. Let’s say you are attempting to get into a university or college and there are steps to take to make it there. Those steps like sharpening up your resume or experiences, reaching high grades and GPA score and taking the best courses for preparation are what journaling is for: keeping track of them so you actually achieve them.

Nobody wants to sit down and write: “I did absolutely nothing to move closer to the achievement of my goals today.” 

Knowing that at the end of the day you’re going to have to sit down and write about what you did that day to move you closer toward the achievement of your goals is a great motivator to get you to do what you’re supposed to be doing. Other topics within this can be about: 

  • Manifestation
  • Planning out your goals step by step
  • Expressing thoughts on failures
  • Long term versus short term goals
  • Writing about others who have achieved what you want to achieve 

JOURNAL YOUR GRATITUDE

Writing about gratitude. It is a beautiful topic to explore. Your soul and heart will thank you for it. Gratitude lets you see wonders in life—even when you think life is horrible. On days when you think “what else can wrong?” writing about what you’re thankful for helps you heal.

Expressing thankfulness on paper or digitally looks different for everyone, but here are some prompts for it: 

  1. Describe your favourite moment of the day: why did this specific moment in time feel so special and great for you? Track the five senses and why each was important to acknowledge for the appreciation behind that moment. 
  2. Describe your favourite person: list their good qualities and why you are attracted to them. What value to they add to your life? This prompt pushes you to not take people for granted. It helps you appreciate those around you even more/. 
  3. Write about random acts of kindness: this can be acts you have seen others perform on the streets or in public, or even acts you have committed yourself! Why were they so good? Who did they do good for?
  4. Reflect on a past success you have had: acknowledge even the little things you have succeeded in. Waking up and making a healthy breakfast…going on a long walk…finishing an important assignment on time.. etc.
  5. Write about a favourite hobby: why do you love this hobby so much? Describe it in detail and this may help you appreciate it even more, plus, find more hobbies that are similar.
  6. Write about someone who made you happy today: even one kind act someone else did for you can make your day. What was that act? 
  7. List things you like about yourself: self-gratitude is beautiful and should always belong in journal entries like this one. 

JOURNAL ABOUT YOUR DREAMS

Dreams! A popular therapy technique to keep track of the subconscious mind. In some forms of therapy, dream journals are highly recommended. A dream journal (or dream diary) is a record of experiences that you dream about in your sleep.

You can start by simply writing down what you remember from your dreams. As you go along, you can start to analyze what your dreams mean. It is a very reflective piece of writing, too, because of the analyzation that comes with each entry.

This habit also improves memory since the second you wake up, that dream starts to fade, and there is a small window of time where you can remember those important details. Your brain works hard on having those memories, which is a good challenge to have mentally.

You can learn to consciously manipulate what happens in each dream so some extent. To do this, you should learn to include as many details as you can, no matter who weird or random. Every detail is necessary to track for when you may want to look back at other past entries. They can all connect somehow!

If it is easier, you can also draw your dreams. Describing those events from a dream or nightmare is not easy through words, but picturing it again can be. Visual people advance with this technique, so try both and see what works best.

Finally, look for patterns in these entries. They will tell you more than you think, which is something therapy does as well.

Psychologically, there are elements to the subconscious mind that can be a consistent telling for feelings, buried emotions and unsolved problems.

Journaling Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep a journal without writing?

This can be done using a device or having illustration style books for image based expression.

What is the best way to journal online?

Use apps and programs that offer easy access to templates, prompts and password protected areas within the site for online journaling. Finding some that do not require WIFI is even better. The best way is to try out multiple online versions of journals to see which fits you best.

Do you have to have a special journal to write things down?

Not at all. Journaling can be done anywhere, on anything as long as it’s comfortable for you. Aesthetically, some like to have a designated book to write it. This is a great way to be motivated because of the dedication to specific pages.

How do I start writing a journal?

Start by purchasing or gathering supplies. Special pens or pencils, a proper book or pad of paper if necessary and finding a good spot to write it. Having supplies helps the discipline by knowing you went out of your way to buy or find items to use just for journaling.

Start small, maybe one page or even shorter for the first entry. The entry can be anything as long as it involves some form of expression and honesty. As time goes on, they will become longer and more structured to what you prefer to share out loud to yourself. Start with a date and learn to always include it at the top of the page. Then, decide on a subject (or choose to do a stream of consciousness style). 

Your Own Written Story

Having keepsakes of your family and passed loved ones keeps their legacy alive and well. It can be tradition to save their old heirlooms, clothing, and items like journals. Finding journals can help the family and friends in the grieving process and even inspire them to journal as well for healing.

Jewelry is a common and elegant way to do so, with customization offered for the optimal personalized item. Some items that can be personalized are ashes into jewelry, photo engraved jewelry, fingerprint jewelry and cremation jewelry.

We hope that with the education behind this article of journaling and appreciating the keepsakes of your own life and the lives of loved ones everyone will find the meaning behind such practices. The benefits of this activity are not to be overlooked! These tips and tricks are all for educational purposes to inspire and influence anyone who is interested in such an amazing day-to-day act.

October 6, 2021 by Jeri K. Augustus

Sources: 

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1207/S15324796ABM2403_10 

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1  

https://zapier.com/blog/best-journaling-apps/ 

https://vanillapapers.net/2019/11/13/journaling-tips/ 

https://www.thecut.com/2017/08/a-beginners-guide-to-keeping-a-journal.html 

https://daringtolivefully.com/keeping-a-journal-goals 

https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/15-fabulous-gratitude-writing-prompts/ 

https://penzu.com/dream-journal