The Joy of Journaling

Like a debrief with your best friend, journaling is an essential element in any self-care schedule

By Jessica Humphries

For as long as I can remember I’ve been expressing myself through written words. Way back when it was called ‘writing in your diary’, before social media came along with a much more enticing way to kill time, I’d spend my afternoons pouring my heart out in my velvet covered notebook. My mum tells me that whenever we fought, instead of throwing a pre-teen tantrum, I’d write long letters about my feelings. There’s just something so cathartic about writing things down. The opportunity to reflect between revelations, to experience the magic of that precious pause. Allowing the messiness of the monkey mind to become somehow disentangled. And the research is on its side too. 

Journaling has been found to enhance both mental and physical health. A 2005 study, by Australian researchers Baikie and Wilhelm, demonstrated that journaling about traumatic events led to improved mood, reduced depression, fewer visits to the hospital and doctor, improved memory, reduced blood pressure, improved immune system functioning and more.

Inspired by such studies, I recently created a workshop for my yoga students on ‘values writing’ – a practice that evidence-based researcher Steven Hayes is particularly passionate about. He says, “Research has shown that values-writing has more impact on behaviour and health than just asking people to pick their values from a list, or state them in a few words. Values writing can reduce defensiveness, making us more receptive to information that suggests changes we need to make in our lives. It reduces physiological stress responses and buffers the impact of negative judgments of us from others.” Hayes explains that values writing is most powerful when it leads us to transcend our own ego and stories, allowing us to care more deeply about others – helping to build our sense of gratitude and purpose. 

Through my own jotting and journaling, I have found a greater sense of clarity. I’ve felt allowed to delve into the nooks and crannies of my being without judgement. Life’s daily trivial matters can sift through the cracks as I devote more time to contemplating what’s important, leaving me feeling clearer, more aware and, well, less like there’s a mental monkey behind the wheel of my ever evolving (but often cluttered) psyche. 

A values-journaling meditation 

  • Prepare your pen and paper and find a quiet and comfortable space. Sit or lie down as you settle your attention on your body and breath. Gently invite the lungs to expand, encouraging deeper breaths. Sit for a few minutes, allowing your mind to wander then gently guide it back to your breath. 
  • Open your eyes and write down the 10 things in life that you truly value. Some of my personal values are family, health, nature and authenticity. What matters most to you?
  • Now, look over the list and see if you can narrow it down to five core values. 
  • Next, answer the following questions on paper (remember, no one else is going to see this, so take as long as you like. Your words might be as complex as a poetic stream of consciousness or as simple as a few bullet-points): 
  1. How am I integrating these values into the way that I live my life? 
  2. In what ways, if any, am I contradicting these values in my daily life?
  3. How could I incorporate these core values into my life even more? 
  • Take as much time as you like to free-write. When you’re finished, lie down. 
  • Scanning from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet, allow each part of the body to relax. Let your mind settle onto your core values as you visualise waking up in the morning. Imagine a day, from the moment you wake in the morning until going to bed at night, where you integrate your core values into the way you live. Really see how a day in your life might look if you were living these core values fully. 
  • When complete, start to deepen your breath as you bring your attention back into your body. Gently come back to sitting.    

How to integrate journaling into daily life

  • Sit your journal next to your bed and write as soon as you wake up or before you go to sleep
  • Integrate the practice into an already established habit – such as after exercise or meditation (or brushing your teeth!)
  • During the day, keep your journal somewhere you can see it. When you feel overwhelmed, jot down some thoughts 
  • If you feel stuck, look up ‘journaling prompts’ for inspiration

Research-backed reasons to write your wins and woes

  • Reduces feelings of sadness and anger
  • Decreases intensity of pain
  • Frees up cognitive resources
  • Enhances feelings of gratitude
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves memory
  • Can help trauma recovery
  • Enhances immune function

Words by Jessica Humphries for Being magazine

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