Journal Keeping for Health and Productivity

Journals are one of the most valuable and accessible self-help tools available.

In times of stress and duress, journaling can help work through some of the most difficult life challenges, such as the death of a spouse with the difficulty that follows.

The Healing Power of Journaling

History and Purpose of Journaling

Drawing, Writing, and Journal Keeping have a history dating back to prehistoric times when people put events on the cave walls with primitive graphics. As the written word and art developed, people recorded their thoughts, reflections, intentions, and plans. The purpose of journaling can be for multiple reasons and purposes as creative expression, exploration of ideas, dreams, fears, or worries. The value could be the searching for deeper understanding, insight, or meaning. But most commonly are the need for personal organization, goal setting, and planning.

My Fascination with Journaling

When I was a small boy, two of my older brothers had different aspirations and talents. Robert, the oldest, used to study intensely with a friend frequently to help each other pass their high school biology and science courses, with their dream of getting into medical school. Robert was very precise and detailed in his notes and recording of assignments in notebooks. He would often make clear schematics or drawings when needed. All of this fascinated me, and perhaps it influenced my pursuing a career in medicine.

Types of Journals

Blank Page Journal provides an open page-like notebook to record such things as feelings, thoughts, challenges, and occurrences. A Diary Type Journal is a similar form of journaling, with a recording of one’s free flow of writing and ideas about your day, activities, or impressions. Spontaneous expression, free association, or stream-of-consciousness writings can unlock your inhibitions and subconscious as you write what comes to mind. For writers, it is a way of unlocking creative expression and feelings that can be a starting point or inspiration for writing material or a new project.

Other types and considerations for journaling

  • Project ideas, planning, goals, progress, and completions
  • Making lists as a new book to read, task to do, items to buy, places to vacation
  • Field Journals for lovers of nature, birds, wildlife, and the environment
  • Video or audio journaling
  • Positive affirmations or quotes to help change your life in a meaningful direction
  • Travel journaling for trip preparation, documenting places visited, and details of a trip
  • Books read, reviews, critiques
  • Fitness, training regimes and work-outs, planning, and fitness goal
  • Weight loss, dieting, exercise, and other health endeavors for optimal health and well-being
  • Food or Gardening Journaling
  • Pregnancy, births, children’s development, milestones, and accomplishments
  • Unsent letters — for letters you were thinking of sending but didn’t. Writing the letter, not to be sent, gets it “off your chest” without getting you deeper into a conflictual relationship⁸

Journaling Benefits

  • Reduces loneliness, painful memories, stress, fears, anxiety, and symptoms from trauma experiences
  • Improves coping, depression, emotion, and moods
  • Provides the opportunity to clarify thoughts, feelings, concerns, and intentions for future undertakings
  • Improves memory by recording new information and helping retention in short- and long-term memory
  • Gets excessive thought out of mind, which frees up working memory for improved problem-solving
  • Clarifies alternatives and perspectives when there are difficult choices
  • Aids the prioritization of your needs, options, and actions to reduce worry, fears, and confusion to get things going and done
  • Acts as a motivational and recording tool to help change unhealthy lifestyles, habits, behaviors, and conflicts
  • Benefits mindfulness, meditation practices, creative expression, and problem-solving
  • Helps in programs to improve restorative sleep, healthy nutrition, and exercise
  • Helps in substance use disorder and addictions to reduce cravings and increase avoidance of drug and alcohol use
  • Tracks and aids your progress and motivation with tasks and projects
  • Brings order when you might feel disorganized and off-track with an activity or project
  • Improve relationships, and the quality of life with mental, physical, and spiritual wellness
  • Uncovers hidden or unconscious feelings, beliefs, thoughts, fears, harbored resentments, or hatreds so that growth, learning, and change can occur
  • Provides a beneficial time out for you to unwind and get out of your head all those pent-up feelings and thoughts

TIPS:

  1. Have a regular schedule for journaling as the first thing in the morning or before bed at night — let it become a habit.
  2. Consider a special setup place free from distraction, as some do with a meditation room. The setting itself can bring you into a relaxed state of mind and feel like a reprieve from the day’s stress or the anticipation of tough challenges.
  3. Keep it simple and easy by having your journal ready to go and close by with the writing or drawing instrument. If you like technology, there are some great programs and apps for your smartphone, tablet, or computer to record things when you are ready, or something comes up you want to record. I like to use Evernote as it will show up on all my devices and has some handy features I like.
  4. Make your journal entries in any manner or style that fits your creativity and expression, whether in prose, poetry, art, music, or scribbles. Don’t worry about exactness or correctness; let it flow in the most comfortable, uninhibited way with your sincere expression.
  5. Let journaling help meet your needs and goals and be a positive and beneficial practice for your mind, body, and spirit⁹
  6. Use prompts to give you direction in your journaling, such as “what is going wrong in your life and what options you have or could imagine would be helpful right now. Look for articles that suggest prompts or some workbook for specific needs with prompts to help you progress along.¹⁰
  7. Reach out for help from a teacher, mentor, therapist, or professional mental health caregiver if you have any symptoms of severe anxiety or mood disturbance.¹¹
  8. Linda Donovan¹² adds when there has been a loss of a significant other, “If you haven’t tried journaling, even if it’s a year or more since you lost someone, get a notebook and set aside time as needed to write about what you want to express. When you see those words in an entry, they will help you sort through your emotions. Or if you prefer to write using a computer, that will work too. You’ll be surprised how this simple exercise can provide insight to guide you.”

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Ron Parks

Ron Parks

Ron Parks, MD, is a physician, consultant, a writer in integrative psychiatry, holistic medicine, and healthcare.