10 Health benefits of journaling and easy exercises to try

In our Wardrobe Journaling course there are certain exercises which are practiced every day. One of these exercises is “How do I think about myself today?” Each day of the course we ask you to spend 5 minutes writing about how you think about yourself today without being overly dramatic, just stating the facts.

What the exercise does is start to prepare your brain to slow down, to step off the daily treadmill and to open yourself up to a short period of time in your day when you can get in touch with yourself.

Other blog posts on this website which will help you get in touch with yourself are:

The six steps to wardrobe journaling: How to create empowering self beliefs

How to create personal mental health journal ideas: 16 prompts

17 reflection journal prompts to get to know yourself better

This exercise highlights a few of the many health benefits of journaling:

1. Journaling slows down your thought process and calms you.

2. The exercise puts you in a proactive, not a reactive state

3. Journaling is time set aside for reflection

4. The heart slows during journaling time

5. This exercise in common with other journaling practices is a method of leaning in to yourself, of getting in touch with yourself.

6. Journaling is a journey of self revelation – you learn about yourself

7. As with all journaling, that hand/mind connection is so beneficial and one of the major health benefits of journaling

8. Repetition and routine can wear us down when they are associated with more tedious tasks, but for journaling the repeated process of writing on a regular basis is a major health benefit.

9. The slow and steady act of writing enables you to work through a problem, letting the mind unfold

10. Journaling rationalises panic. If you are in the midst of emotion turmoil or stressful situation, 10 minutes spent journaling can rationalise panic.

The health benefits of journaling

What that simple exercise demonstrates

What that initial preparatory exercise demonstrates is the simple but amazing power of journaling and particularly the health benefits of journaling. In this blog post we are going to look at the benefits listed above, how they related to you. And we are going to give you a few prompts so that you can do some of the exercises yourself and see just how therapeutic writing can be.

Are you ready to get started?

We’ve included a table of contents here so you can directly navigate to the content you want.

collage of journaling images 9 in total on a 3 by 3 grid. Accompanies the blog post: 10 health benefits of journaling and easy exercises to try

1. Journaling slows down your thought process and calms you

Even if you write really fast you probably aren’t writing as fast as you would speak. When you write you are staying with your thought for longer than you would if it just flashed by in your brain. Plus the act of writing helps us to stay with one train of thought. You’ve probably noticed how your brain is able to think different thoughts at lightning speed. It would be impossible to have those thoughts and write them down at that speed.

So the act of writing and putting pen to paper will definitely slow you up. This reflection toolkit from Edinburgh University confirms this.

You could try this now. To go back to the example above, spend 5 minutes now writing down how you think about yourself. Set the timer on your phone and I’ll see you in 5.

What came up for you? Maybe unexpected emotions or thoughts that were slightly buried? Or maybe some realisation about a problem or an issue that you are facing. Did you find that slowing down to write your thoughts out was very calming? I’m sure that you may have noticed that. One of the many health benefits of journaling is that as you slow down, you calm down too.

2. Journaling puts you in a proactive not a reactive state

As you write your thoughts out on paper you become the channeller of the thoughts; your thoughts arrive in your brain then you write them out. As you write them out you also start to have control them. So firstly you are channelling your thoughts and then secondly that channelling is enabling you to have control over them.

You see areas where you could take action. You are aware of writing down thoughts which have high intensity emotions attached to them but which, upon rereading, seem to you like an invitation to take action rather than to wallow in sadness or self pity.

When you write out your thoughts you are better able to deal with them as opposed to letting them run riot in your mind in an uncontrolled fashion. So this is another of the health benefits of journaling which is that journaling acts as a control factor in containing unwanted thoughts.

3. Journaling is time set aside for reflection

One of the major health benefits of journaling is this time we are able to set aside for reflection. Self reflection requires a tranquil mind. It helps us to process how we feel about certain experiences. Self reflection through journaling will also help you develop a tranquil mind. As you journal, your mind becomes still, and you are better able to self reflect

When you are very preoccupied with the emotions of your own life it can be hard not to identify with those emotions. Reflection through journaling helps you to step back from those emotions. It gives you space to breathe between you and the emotion.

4. The heart slows during journaling

Try this for yourself. Ask yourself how you are feeling and then write down what comes to mind. Then look at your list. You might have come up with really surface thoughts – like a todo list.

Now, do it again and ask yourself how you really feel? Talk about emotions and feelings, not about things you need to do. Notice how your heart slows down and you may even start to feel calmer. Reduced stress and increased wellbeing have been shown to be present during clinical trials of journaling.

Image of a journal and a diary and pen in a pile next to a mug of tea on a mosaic board/tray, sitting on a bed with a cream coloured blanked/throw. Accompanies the blog post: 10 health benefits of journaling and easy exercises to try

5. Journaling helps you tune into yourself, get in touch with yourself.

From the previous number you will appreciate that we have different types of thoughts and sometimes we need to move from surface level thoughts and tune in to ourselves.

The previous exercise was a good example of that but let’s go a bit further. So many of our thoughts are attached to what other people think of us. You can use your journaling practice to identify where your thought patterns are actually a result of what you think other people may feel about a situation rather than what you yourself feel.

Try this for yourself and see if you can identify where your thinking is not actually your own thoughts.

Journaling prompt:

Think about something about yourself that you dislike or want to change. It could be the clothes you wear or a physical attribute such as the way you look. Write this down at the top of a piece of paper. Then underneath, list out how you feel about that particular attribute.

As many as you can, carry on beyond where you think you will run out of answers. When you get to that point stop again and ask yourself, how do I really feel about X.

You may see that you r answer changes slightly. What we think about is often wrapped up in what we think other people think about a situation. But what is more important is knowing what you think about a given situation.

Sometimes it take longer to reveal what you actually think, or initial thoughts all revolve around what other people think of us, or maybe more accurately what we think other people think of us. Without a practice like journaling how would we otherwise access our subconscious thoughts? So this is definitely another of the health benefits of journaling.

6. Journaling is a journey of self revelation

Journaling makes us think about what we are really thinking. It invites us to go deeper than surface level thoughts. The process of journaling and giving the brain prompts are entry points into the self revelation.

In our Wardrobe Journaling course we use various prompts to stimulate the awakening of that self revelation. Self reflection and self revelation are slightly different concepts. With self reflection you look back at what you have written and reflect on your writing. With self revelation you ask yourself, ‘What have I learned about myself in this process?’ Of course those two concepts are inter-twined and interlinked. But they nevertheless remain distinct.

In our Wardrobe Journaling course, participants are asked to write about the clothes they have worn or would like to wear. And then they are asked to comment on what they have written (self reflection) and then they are asked to comment on what they have learned about themselves (self revelation).

7. Health benefits of journaling with the hand/mind connection

When hand writing, fine and precise hand movements are involved. These sensory experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open it up for learning so that we both learn and remember better. 

Eva Ose Askvik

Something amazing happens when we use our hands, not just for writing, but for other tasks too. The connection between the hands and the brain is necessarily strong. Our hands are one of the major ways that we navigate through our physical world.

Long before we wrote anything down we painted and created physical objects. Using our hands is vital to our life. So, when we pick up a pen or pencil and start to write we are tapping into powerful links between the brain and the hands.

Studies have shown that the process of cursive handwriting helps the brain learn and remember better. So, when you are writing, you are actually strengthening your brain. Or put it another way, the practice of journaling is like a physical workout for the brain with the health benefits of stimulating, activating and growing the brain.

Blue journal cover with the word journal in an italic font, a silver pen sits on the journal. Accompanies the blog post: 10 health benefits of journaling and easy exercises to try

8. Repetition and Routine

Do you know that game where you ask yourself ‘why?’ about a problem or question about seven times in order to understand it better?

For example, your thought could be ‘I need to clean the house’.
And you would then ask yourself, ‘why?’
And then you answer yourself, ‘Because then it’s clean’.
Because then I feel organised.
Because when the house is tidy I feel calm and that makes me feel organised.

… you get the picture. The repeated act of asking yourself ‘why?’ starts to reveal more about your thoughts. It can help you understand yourself better, answer problems and work through issues where you are confused about a life decision.

It’s the same with repetition in journaling. In Wardrobe Journaling we have a couple of questions that we ask each day of the 6 modules. The idea is that each time you come to write the answer to the same question you will go a bit deeper in your thinking. Over the 6 days your thoughts about yourself will grow and change as you answer the same question repeatedly.

Journal prompt:

Take a week and ask yourself the same question each day for a week. Don’t look back, check over your work or think about what you wrote the day or days before. Just come to that blank sheet of paper each day and write your thoughts. At the end of the week look and see if your answer is different on day seven to what it was on day one. Self reflection and self revelation in one journaling practice, two health benefits of journaling in one exercise!

Journaling prompt 2:

Take a week and work through the ‘why?’ question. Choose a different type of question or statement each day. Here are some starter phrases to initiate the ‘why?’ game, although if you can think of your own then use those:

I’d like to live in ……
I’m going to find a new job
I’d like to lose weight
I need some time to myself
I think I need to make a life change

9. Working through a problem

When problems arise it’s easy to get caught up in their drama. We make bad things mean something: that we are no good, that we always do something to create a situation; that bad things always happen to us.

Journaling helps to take one step back from the problem and look at it in a different way. This distance is called cognitive defusion.

You can see from the other examples given in this blog post how it would be possible to journal about your problems. And you can probably see how you could find a solution to your problems through self reflection and self revelation. And you can probably also see that the very act of journaling itself will make you calmer and less stressed about your problems. This is one of the health benefits of journaling that we have already addressed.

The practice of cognitive defusion is a great way of addressing problems you may be facing.

Journaling prompt

Here are some questions you can ask yourself that can help diffuse problems:

Create some space between you and the thoughts. Instead of saying, “I’m going to fail”, say “I’m having the thought that I’m going to fail.” (I love that phrase it has really helped me and I hope it helps you too).

Say, “thank you brain for your contribution, but I’ve got this.” You are not your thoughts. Your brain presents you with thoughts, but you are not them. It took me a long time to learn this. So, when your brain says, “Today is awful it really can’t get any worse”. Just say, ‘Thank you brain for your contribution but I’m just going to go over here and have a really nice day.’ Effectively you’ve just walked away from thoughts that do not serve you or help you in any way. Who knew that you could just walk away. Try it for yourself the next time you get into one of those spirals of despair. Just walk away.

Write out the phrase that is unhelpful into your journal. Now, write comments about it, or colour it in. Make it fun. Draw flowers on the letters, or create funny faces. It’s hard to take, “I’m going to fail at life” and be depressed about it when you’ve placed it in a garden full of flowers and an arrow points to the phrase and you’ve written, ‘this is such a silly thing to say’ by the side. Try it for yourself. It’s great fun!

10. Journaling rationalises panic

Left unchecked, panic and anxiety can lead to potentially very high levels of stress. And, if left further unchecked, those levels of stress can start to feel normal. You get up each day and the same levels of stress return and you habituate yourself to those levels.

Of course this can only continue for a certain period of time. Stress, anxiety and panic take a human toll on the brain and on the body.

But one of the health benefits of journaling, as we’ve seen in this blog post, is a great antidote to stress, anxiety and panic. You could create a journal specifically to use when you have an anxiety attack or feel panic-stricken. It might help for you to have a pre-prepared list of questions to ask yourself when you feel this way.

Journaling prompt:

Prepare a list of self-help questions that are ready for you on those occasions when you panic or are anxious. You can use questions like these:

How am I feeling in my head?
How am I feeling in my body?
If there’s one thing I could do to feel better right now it would be?
What is the specific thought I am having that is causing me to feel this way?

Just a note about anxiety, stress and panic. Look after yourself, be kind to yourself. Have other practices or habits that link in with the journaling practice that help destress you. For example, if you are able, find a comfortable place to sit, maybe the same place each time, and write in your journal.

Keep a list of things you can do that help relieve anxiety and panic. My list looks something like this:

Go for a walk
Take a bath
Sit on the bed with my feet up and have a cup of tea
Get warm
Sit down and just breathe. Don’t over think, let thoughts wash over me. Wait until my breathing returns to normal before doing anything else.

I hope you’ve found these prompts/exercises really useful. They have been useful for me in learning to understand myself better. Quite often I get up early and give myself the challenge of writing 500 words on any topic I want. I didn’t think of this as one of the health benefits of journaling at the time, I just though of it in terms of feeling better. Gradually I’ve realised though how therapeutic writing really is, and I hope you gain some insight into how it can work for you too.

I hope you’ve found these prompts/exercises really useful. They have been useful for me in learning to understand myself better. Quite often I get up early and give myself the challenge of writing 500 words on any topic I want. I didn’t think of this as one of the health benefits of journaling at the time, I just though of it in terms of feeling better. Gradually I’ve realised though how therapeutic writing really is, and I hope you gain some insight into how it can work for you too.

If you liked this blog post you might also like:

8 easy benefits of journaling for mental health
How to be kind to yourself: Journal prompts for anxiety
3 hidden benefits of journaling for self care

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