Journaling: The Art of Emotional Digestion

Most of us aspire to be better communicators. We read books and articles promising to help us improve our conversational skills; the fact we’re “meeting” in the speech section of suggests you and I are probably fascinated with language and its power to affect behavior.

In addition to enabling the exchange of information, communication shared among friends, family, or simply with yourself, has a cathartic effect able to reduce stress and help release creative energy. Although having a dialogue with yourself can be liberating, you’ll likely be cast off as a nut case if you’re caught!

Journaling is a term to define the practice of keeping a diary to explore thoughts and feelings. It is considered self-therapy and is often utilized as an effective stress-management tool because writers often find emotional clarity as they journal. The act of writing one’s innermost thoughts, struggles and problems can activate valuable self-knowledge. This tool of self-exploration is not simply the act of recording life events like one might do in a calendar, although there is value in that, too.

Journaling can serve many functions. It can:

  • Capture your history
  • Help you uncover your past
  • Help you assimilate your present
  • Help you record your hopes for the future
  • Allow you to process deep-seated feelings such as anger or betrayal without the need to confront the subject (until, of course you come to a rational conclusion and wish to do so)

In addition to a traditional journal, you might want to start an idea journal in which you jot creative thoughts that transpire throughout the day. When you have more time, you can refer to those notes and organize and build upon them.

The value of an idea journal is it offers an easy and accessible storage of ideas and revelations you can revisit. Writers find an idea journal helps them release “brain clutter,” as they catalog what comes to mind rapidly.

All random thoughts and brainstorms qualify for entry in an idea journal: article ideas, observations, drawings, projects to pursue, poems, assignments to explore — whatever you might want to capture on paper to reconsider at a later point. Consider it a launching pad for future reference. The most important point to remember about an idea journal is that you should always carry it with you: You never know when a moment of brilliance may strike!

You do not need to confine yourself to just one journal form. You can keep an idea journal in your purse and a more traditional diary safe at home. Although it seems basic and unsophisticated, the act of journaling can be dynamic and life changing.

Journaling has been scientifically linked to the following health benefits:

  • Decreased symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and a host of other medical conditions
  • Improved cognitive functioning
  • A stronger immune system, inhibiting illness

There are few “how to” directives, since the very nature of journaling is the release of a free-flow of sentiments and emotions. Even the place in which you choose to journal doesn’t much matter, although you will find a quiet place free from loud noises, distractions and interruptions is more conducive to taking an internal voyage. More significant than where you journal, how you journal can make or break your experience.

Journaling is a personal and individual journey. Journals are not intended to be read by others, unless you’re composing a Web log (we’ll talk about translating your journal to a blog next week), so you can write away without the fear of having your private feelings broadcast. It should help you manage stress, not create more of it, so ease up on the “requirements.”

But if you’re looking for tips that may help you get started, here are a few:

  • Select your journaling tool. Use a traditional journal, or diary (it can be as elaborate or as simplistic as you wish: choose from a fancy leather-bound book with a locking feature or a simple paper and pen), or since most of us are computer savvy, create an online journal in a Word document (create a password so you can be assured privacy). There is also the Web site, where you can record your thoughts.
  • Start writing. Journal keepers find that they use writing as a way of thinking and processing thoughts, so write the first thing that comes to mind and the rest will follow.
  • Don’t watch the clock. Unless of course you have a pot of food on the stove while you take a minute to journal. The fewer the restraints, the more effective you will find the exercise. You may realize that evenings are best for you, or first thing in the morning. Or, if you are wildly random, you may want to carry your journal in your handbag and write whenever you feel so “moved.”
  • Commit to continue. To keep a journal requires both an emotional and cognitive effort. You will become a better writer and will find you can get in touch with your feelings easier and with more clarity the more you write.
  • Date your entry. This is helpful when you revisit your journal so you can see your progress or thought sequence in a chronological perspective.
  • Don’t edit or revise what you write or draw. Again, no one will be grading your work, and if you are unable to release your feelings as they emerge, you might rob yourself of the spontaneity of the overall experience. Honesty and free-spiritedness is key.

There are few drawbacks to journaling: If you’re a perfectionist you might obsess over details like your penmanship, the style or accuracy of your work or other factors so much so that it inhibits your focus on the thoughts and feelings you seek to express. Or, if you have suffered emotional trauma, writing about it may re-activate your memory and cause you to relive the incident. If you find a matter is too difficult for you to face on your own, you may want to consider a visit to a qualified therapist who can help you navigate through those painful episodes.

If you only hone in on your negative feelings and experiences without incorporating goals for recovery you may actually cause more stress. In addition to enabling you to process your hardships on paper, journaling is a valuable tool to help you count your blessings, too. Every now and then, record the details in your life for which you are thankful: loyal friends, children who love you, a fabulous collection of shoes – whatever qualifies. Every time you revisit this list, your sense of gratitude will arise and you’ll realize that life is not all bad. Also record goals, dreams and aspirations and track your progress as you revisit your entries down the line.

Because the more we learn to communicate internally, the better we’ll be at expressing who we are to others.


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