How Journalling Can Help You Cope
There are a lot of benefits of journalling and research supports it being a beneficial clinical tool in counselling. One great thing about journalling is that you don't need to be in counselling to do it. Journalling is never something I've really done consistently until more recently. I know that a lot of people struggle to either get started (often because of their perceptions about journalling - not liking it, not thinking it will be helpful, not knowing what to write, or judging themselves for what they might write) or to keep it going (usually because of forgetting, not thinking it's important, etc.). If you can motivate yourself to journal, you might see a number of benefits for your mental and physical health. Sometimes reviewing those benefits can also help build motivation, so let's take a look at them now.
1. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) we use a process called "defusion" which is really just creating distance between ourselves and our unhelpful thoughts. In some types of therapy these would be called "negative thoughts" (though I prefer the term unhelpful as it's a bit less judgmental). One of the great things that journalling does it help to create this distance, simply by writing the thoughts down on paper (or electronically) and getting them out of our head.
2. Journalling reduces stress and anxiety. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the above point. When we have distance between ourselves and these thoughts, we tend to feel less stressed. Then we are able to go on to doing activities in our day that are meaningful to us, which further reduces stress.
3. It can also improve our mood. Again this goes along with points 1 and 2. When we have distance between ourselves and our unhelpful thoughts, which feel less sad and depressed, which again enables us to do values-based activities.
4. And tying into all of that (or another way of saying all of that) is that it really can help us process our emotions. Sadness, anxiety, anger, disappointment, guilt, shame, etc. and all of the sensations that go along with that in our bodies. Rather than create distance, it helps us accept them better and we can even use self-compassion while journalling to remember that these are emotions all humans feel.
5. As a result we find that journalling can lower blood pressure (which makes sense if you're feeling less stressed) and also improve immune function (due to the mind-body connection as sadness and anxiety can contribute to a dysregulated immune system).
6. Finally, and importantly for anyone with concussion/post-concussion syndrome, journalling can improve your memory. By writing about what happened during your day, you're strengthening your recall and short-term memory.
There are many ways to journal (stream of consciousness, following prompts, the PIES method, self-compassion focused) and any of these ways can give you the same results. Like any coping skill, consistency is the key to starting to notice the effect. Doing something once rarely gives us the results we desire (think about any sport you've played).