Have you ever really wanted to say something—but there was nobody around to say it to? Have you ever wished you could tell somebody off, but didn't want to deal with the consequences? Have you ever been so upset about something that you couldn't tell even your best friend? Has there ever been a moment in time that you wished you could hold onto forever?
For all of these reasons and many more, people keep journals. A journal is a private place to spill your thoughts and pour out your heart. For many people, writing in a journal is like confiding in a trusted friend. It can help you make sense of your life and feel better about things. Now some scientists are saying that writing down what you feel may offer benefits to your physical health as well. back to top
What does writing in a journal have to do with my health?
It's easy to understand how writing in a journal could be good for your emotional
health. But, surprisingly, research shows that writing down intense feelings may affect your body as well. One scientific study of 112 people with asthma
and rheumatoid arthritis
found that almost half of the people who wrote about the most stressful thing that ever happened to them—for 20 minutes without stopping, three days in a row—showed significant improvement in their asthma and arthritis.
How could writing about an upsetting event affect somebody's health? Researchers are still trying to figure that out. One thing health experts know is that being under a lot of emotional stress
weakens your body's defenses against illness. Releasing stress through writing may help the healing process by helping you accept your feelings. back to top
What if I don't like to write?
Some people are turned off to writing because it reminds them of school assignments. The beauty of keeping your own journal is that there are no rules, no spelling checks, no deadlines, and nobody to tell you what to say or how to say it. Once you realize there really is
no one reading over your shoulder, you may find it a lot easier and more fun to write. Sometimes it helps to speak your thoughts into a tape recorder at first (you can always copy down what you said later). But if you think you can express your feelings more easily through drawing, doodling, quoting song lyrics, pasting in photographs or poems or objects that mean a lot to you, that's perfectly okay, too. It's your
journal, and you can do whatever you like. back to top
Tips for getting started
If you've never kept a journal, here are some simple steps to get you going:
What if I don't have anything to write about?
- Choose your tools. Journal keepers write in all kinds of books—from beautifully bound blank books to cheap spiral notebooks, even paper napkins if nothing else is available. Others choose to keep their personal writings on a computer.
What you keep your journal in doesn't matter, as long as it feels right to you. It may help to personalize your journal by decorating its cover in some way. What's nice about writing is that it really doesn't require much stuff. The only thing you may want to invest in is a good pen that feels comfortable in your hand and glides easily across the page.
- Pick a spot. Some journal-keepers find it helpful to create a private place where they go to write. This can be a corner of your room that you set off in some way, maybe by adding a plant, a picture that inspires you, or an object you love. If you want, you can try playing music while you write to see if it helps get the creative juices flowing.
On the other hand, some people like to get out of the house to write—under a tree, at a library, or in a coffee shop. Rumor has it that J. K. Rowlings wrote the first Harry Potter book while sitting in a local cafĂ©—and look where it got her!
- Write fast—and don't worry about messing up. Remember, nobody but you gets to read what you write in your journal, unless you want them to. Even you don't have to read what you write—in fact, some journaling experts suggest not looking at your journal entries until some time has gone by. So there's no need to cross out, make corrections, or even form complete sentences.
- Be honest. Let your imagination run wild. Make up fiction. Write total nonsense. What's important is that you be true to yourself. Write what you feel—not what you think you should feel or what you think other people think you should feel. Start with the first thought that comes into your head. back to top
It's true that a blank page can be scary. But keeping a journal is not the same as writing your life story (unless you want it to be!). It's a place to scribble down your passing thoughts, likes and dislikes, plans, problems, or anything else that's on your mind. Here are a few suggestions:
- Be an observer. Some people like to keep a journal as a kind of diary in which they record the events and feelings of their day. But then they feel stuck on days when nothing "happens." If that's the case with you, try this: take a kind of snapshot of yourself and your surroundings at the moment you take pen in hand. Observe everything you see and hear and smell and feel. As you write, imagine you're sharing your experience with someone who is blind or deaf or from another planet.
- Follow your feelings. Sometimes it can be hard to write about strong feelings like anger or sadness because it means staying with that feeling for longer than it's comfortable. It's tempting to push away powerful feelings and ignore them, but they have a bad habit of popping back up again when you don't expect it. Writing about your feelings may help you get past them.
- Catch your dreams. Try keeping your journal and a pen next to your bed so you can write down your dreams as soon as you wake up. Don't try to make sense of anything—just write the dream exactly as you remember it. Putting dream images into words can help you see how they may relate your waking life. back to top
Still feeling stuck? Here are some ideas from journaling experts:
- Free-writing. This is a fun exercise that is also known as "stream-of-consciousness" writing. Set a timer or your alarm clock for 10 minutes. Then start writing, as fast as you can, without taking your pen off the paper until the 10 minutes are up. Write down anything that comes into your head, even if it's just "Why am I doing this?" Just keep writing. You'll be surprised what thoughts may sneak through by the time you're done.
- Unsent letter. Have you ever really wanted to say something to someone but couldn't? Maybe that person wasn't available—like a boy you have a crush on from a distance, or a parent who has moved away. Or maybe you're mad at someone, like your best friend or your mother, but don't want to confront her because you don't know how she'll react. Try writing a letter to that person, knowing that you probably won't send it. Let it all out. Chances are it will be a relief. And it just may help you get a handle on your feelings and how to move forward.
- Wish lists. This is an easy one. As fast as you can, just keep writing phrases or sentences that start with the words "I wish." Imagine you're in a perfect world, and these are all the things you would wish for if money were no object, if you weren't afraid to try something new or take a risk, if nobody were treated unfairly, if everyone you knew were in perfect health, if you could have everything you wanted, if there were an end to war or world hunger...you get the idea. See how many wishes you can come up with!
- Time travel. Imagine yourself at age 30, or 50, or 80. Now write a letter from yourself then to yourself now. What have you become? Where do you live? What do you do? What have you learned? What advice would you offer to your younger self? How many wishes have come true for you? back to top