Journaling can greatly benefit your mental health. Writing down your thoughts and feelings has been shown to help with managing anxiety, reducing stress, and coping with depression, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Researchers from Michigan State University have found neural evidence supporting the idea that writing down what is causing you worry or anxiety is beneficial.
Physically documenting what is swirling around in your mind can help you to sort out your thoughts and make you feel better because the simple act of fixing your emotions in a tangible form relieves some of their perceived weight. Your therapist or counselor may encourage you to keep a journal, and for good reason.
What about journaling makes it therapeutic?
Psychologists have found that fixing feelings on paper reduces their emotional intensity, which helps to regulate emotions and make them more manageable. There are many, varied emotions at play throughout recovery from a substance use disorder, and managing them is critical to staying strong in your recovery efforts, discovering yourself, and keeping yourself safe from relapse.
Why should I journal?
Maybe journaling seems cheesy and unproductive. Maybe it seems like an unreasonable way of dealing with your emotions. Maybe it even seems redundant; if you’re seeing a therapist or counselor regularly, why should you take the time to write down feelings you’ve already discussed?
Describing emotions using spoken words may reactive old feelings, while writing about them can prove calming and therapeutic. It also helps you to disassociate your feelings from your person, to an extent; seeing them on a page can help you analyze your emotions and ask why you may have felt or behaved a certain way.
Having them written down is also helpful when it comes to sharing your feelings with others. If you’re uncomfortable talking about something but feel that it’s important to share with another person, you can write it down and show them.
Setting aside time to journal each day can become a part of your healthy, productive recovery routine and help keep you motivated to stay on track.
How do I get started journaling?
At first, try to write daily, so you can get in the habit of journaling. The action of pen-and-paper-journaling— versus typing a journal entry on your phone or computer— can be particularly therapeutic, so keeping a pen and notebook handy is a good idea. Keep in mind that journaling is meant to be a casual exercise, something designed to help you, not stress you out. Skipping a day of writing is okay. Don’t force yourself to write. If you have nothing to say, don’t strain yourself trying to come up with words to fill a blank page.
It’s your journal, so follow whatever pattern or lack of pattern is most comfortable for you. If you’ve never tried journaling before, you might want to begin writing in a list format to get the hang of it and figure out what style of writing you like and don’t like.
Making regular gratitude lists of people/things you’re grateful for is a good introduction to journaling. You can keep the list as it is or expand on a line or two. Writing a gratitude list/writing in a gratitude journal before you go to sleep can have lasting positive effects because the gratitude is taken up by your subconscious.
Journaling around the same time each day can help you to integrate writing into your recovery routine, especially when you’re first beginning, so do this if you are able.
Writing down your feelings can be therapeutic, especially in recovery, and taking some time to determine whether journaling can help you may be worth it.