I’ve Journaled For The Past 7 Years—How To Make This Popular Trend Actually Help You

One of the current wellness trends rampaging through the For You Pages of TikTok is journaling. The internet posits numerous techniques and reasons for journaling – everything from improving your overall mental health to even manifesting a relationship with a specific person.

By Kalliope Pruim3 min read
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Shutterstock/Olena Serzhanova

It’s fair to say that each person’s experience and outcome will be unique, but there are specific methods that will produce specific results. With that being said, I have spent the last seven years of my life journaling, and I’ve experienced both the good and the bad. Here’s how to not make the same mistakes that I did.

I started journaling as a child. For the sake of this article, I will call it journaling when it was, in actuality, more the act of diary writing. My journaling journey truly didn’t begin until the big ol’ pandemic. I devoted that summer of 2020 in my parents’ home to journaling my way out of my anxiety. Three years later, I can confidently say that I do not experience anxiety like I once had, thanks to my journaling practice. Since then, I have remained consistent with it and have experienced countless positive effects. However, there were also many times when I felt the modality had taken a wrong turn away from my path of healing. At times, I felt as if it started to ruin my life and mental health. How could journaling both help and hurt me? A study from the University of Iowa on journaling sheds some light on the matter.

Emotions: Helpful or Detrimental?

In the heat of the moment, we can get wrapped up in how we’re feeling about a situation and ruminate on those feelings. Often times with journaling, we’re quick to use the medium as a “brain dump” for all of the things we are thinking but can’t say. Emotional inhibition can be detrimental to an individual’s quality of life, but writing exclusively about your emotions isn’t the most effective way to journal. If anything, it can lead to negative outcomes, as proposed by a study conducted by the University of Iowa.

The study took 175 undergraduate psychology students and had them journal about different personal stressful events for one month. The students were separated into three different groups: the first group journaled only their emotional responses, the second combined emotions with cognition, and the third acted as the control group by solely focusing on the facts of the situation.

The Science-Backed Verdict

The findings concluded that the students in the first group experienced the greatest increase in physical illness due to their persistent focus on negative emotions. The second group, which combined cognitive processing with emotional expression, experienced more positive growth and less physical illness than the other two groups. 

Writing with both emotional awareness and the facts sets us up for positive outcomes.

My own experience with journaling aligns with these findings. When I focused on processing the cause of my anxiety and how to move forward, I felt an increase in my capability to handle future situations better. Ultimately, this led to me living the life I live currently, free of anxiety. However, when I journaled only about my anger or any hopeless feelings, a negative loop would occur. I’d find myself leaving my journaling sessions no better than I had entered them because of this self-rumination. This perpetuated the feeling of helplessness.

The ultimate goal of this new wave of journaling obsession is to cultivate a better life through the regulation of our thoughts. Writing in the manner of emotional awareness in tandem with the facts of the situation sets us up for positive outcomes both physically and mentally. No matter who you are, there will always be external circumstances that will be out of your control. The brain is a powerful tool when we can have some sort of control over it. Journaling in this manner allows for just that.

Journaling Prompts To Follow To Have the Best Outcomes

Many influencers promote journaling as a sure fix for any mental health crisis, but it is important that we use the tool properly to benefit from its heralded promises. The next time you go to journal, make sure you address the following:

  1. What Happened That Elicited a Certain Response within You: An easy way to think of this is looking back at certain situations that caused you to feel “triggered” – the activating situation or experience that caused a domino effect of thoughts and emotions. In this step, we are only identifying what occurred and focusing on the facts of what happened. 

  2. How the Situation Made You Feel: This step is where we turn toward our emotions and give ourselves the space to be openly honest within the confines of the journal’s bindings. State how X, Y, or Z made you feel. There is no right or wrong way to feel. This is where we let ourselves be human.

  3. Why You Feel The Way You Do: Believe it or not, there is (almost always) a reason behind every feeling you have. “This person made me feel this way” is not the reason behind the feeling. That is what happened combined with how you feel. You might feel the way you do because of how a past event shaped you or it goes against a set of beliefs or morals you hold highly. Think rationally about why you are experiencing said negative emotion.

  4. If There Was a Better Way You Could Have Responded: Consider for a moment how you reacted to what happened. Was it out of character? Or do you normally act in that way? We are often quick to react when we should practice responding. Think about what other possible ways of responding to the situation there could have been.

  5. How You Want To Feel Moving Forward: The reason why you are journaling in the first place is because a situation left you feeling less than optimal, and that’s completely normal! The point though is to move yourself into a better feeling state because only you have that power – making it your responsibility. Is resentment, anger, sadness, or victimization the state of being you want to continue to live in? Chances are the answer is no.

  6. How You Will Achieve That Better Feeling State: Think about how you want to feel (peaceful, content, fulfilled, happy, harmonious, abundant, etc.) and what you can do to cultivate that feeling. What steps can you take right now to foster that new state of being? What kind of actions, thoughts, or behaviors can you adopt or change to achieve this goal?

Closing Thoughts

The promotion of journaling as a way to better your mental health is scientifically backed. However, we have to make sure that we use this medium in the proper way to receive the proclaimed benefits. We need to combine our emotional awareness with cognitive processing. This allows us to recognize how we are feeling and what we can do moving forward. This will make us feel more capable of handling our current and future issues, increase positive self-growth, and decrease the risk of experiencing physical illness. All in all, journaling is a great method for mental self-care if we learn the proper ways to engage with it.

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