young african american woman sitting in bed, writing in journal during daytime

Writing down our thoughts provides health and wellness benefits ranging from reduced stress to better sex. In this Shape article, Mindpath Health’s Leela R. Magavi, MD, discusses how to get the most out of the practice.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought a blank journal, convinced it would change your life only to let those blank pages burn a hole into the back of your mind. One survey suggests that less than one-fifth of people actually maintain a journaling practice — despite the numerous mental health and well-being benefits.

Journaling can provide a number of health and wellness benefits ranging from reduced stress to better sex. Even if you’re simply looking for a boost in your self-care routine, the benefits of journaling hold true.

Journaling doesn’t have to be literally taking pen to paper, so if that’s not your thing, there are many other ways to reap the benefits of journaling that work for your schedule and goals. There are no proven benefits to handwriting in a journal that cannot also be achieved through a keyboard or audio notes, says Lori Cangilla, PhD. For anyone with a mobility issue, tech-based journals have the added benefit of being more accessible, she adds.

Learn more about the plethora of journaling benefits, plus exactly how to journal to get the most out of the healthy habit.

The health benefits of journaling

Reduced stress

Journaling’s main claim to fame is that it can improve overall mental well-being. A study compared the mental health effects of those who journaled to those who didn’t. Those who partook experienced greater mental resilience, reduced stress, and improved quality of life. The participants saw these benefits from journaling just three days a week for four weeks.

Improved mood

This journaling benefit might sound cheesy, but it can improve your overall disposition. Journaling “gives us an outlet for the negative thoughts and feelings that otherwise might just stay in our heads,” explains Cangilla.

Emotional release

There’s a reason the angsty teen on nearly every sitcom kept a journal: Putting their misunderstood thoughts on paper made them feel better. You, too, can “let it all out” via journaling.

Improved self-awareness

Self-awareness, at its most distilled, is the knowledge of who you are, as well as whom others perceive you to be. Self-awareness is a skill set that can foster happiness in friendships, love, and life and something that you can improve and maintain through a variety of means — including going to therapy, practicing your active listening skills, and re-prioritizing your mindfulness routine.

Better sex life

While penning through your pain, don’t forget to pen about pleasure. “Journaling can play a really significant role in helping someone understand their sexuality,” especially people who are actively exploring their thoughts and feelings on the topic, says Carol Queen PhD.

How to journal to reap the most benefits

1. Make it a daily routine.

The benefits of journaling may be impressive, but to snag them you have to actually journal — and ideally, daily. “Completing at least a short journal entry every single day is best,” says Leela R. Magavi, M.D., a psychiatrist and regional medical director for Mindpath Health.

Just remember: This doesn’t mean you should feel guilty or as if you failed by skipping a day… or three. Journaling is a way of honoring your emotional and mental needs — and not journaling is a way of honoring those needs, too. If you’re not feeling it, no need to force it.

2. Put it in your schedule.

For people who struggle to maintain a journaling practice, try doing it at the exact same time every day, says Dr. Magavi. “This helps make it part of your routine, which makes it harder to bypass,” she says.

Having it in your schedule along with everything else can help remind you that your journaling practice is an appointment worth keeping.

3. Don’t stress about grammar.

Your journal is not the place to flex your punctuation proficiency. Editing every typo and grammar blip can actually interfere with your ability to connect with yourself because it forces you to crawl out of your feelings and into the head, Magavi says.

Most people find it easier to avoid editing when physically writing on paper, so if you’re guilty of proofreading your work when you’re typing, consider switching to a physical journal — and pen, not pencil, so you’re not tempted to go back, erase, and fix any mistakes.

4. Ask yourself questions as you journal.

Sure, you can just word vomit onto your blank page — or you can take it a step further (and reap even more of the benefits of journaling) by asking yourself questions about what you’re feeling to get a clearer picture of the truth, says Cangilla. Think of it like interviewing yourself. In some instances, the answers could actually help you make decisions or determine changes you need to make.

5. Try a variety of journal formats.

Some people enjoy using journals replete with prompts. Others prefer using graph paper for bullet journaling. When you first dive into journaling practice, try exploring different formats to figure out which is best for helping you navigate sticky emotions and situations, suggests Dr. Magavi.

Read the full Shape article with sources.

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