What is journaling?

Feb 27, 2019 | What is...

What is journaling?


Julia Franckh

Whenever someone used to mention journaling I immediately was brought back to the pink diary with a little golden lock I used to have in middle school (cue voice over “Dear diary”… you get the point).

It’s because of that mental image that I stayed away from journaling- I felt silly about it, but man was I wrong.

Journaling and keeping a diary are essentially the same thing. You simply take some time to write down your thoughts, your life, your emotions or whatever pops into your head.

Since I starting to journal regularly I am kind of frustrated I didn’t start sooner since I have found that it has a significant impact on my mental clarity. Tim Ferris refers to it as the most cost-effective therapy he has found and for good reason.

Why should I care?

Journaling is a great stress-management tool! By writing about your worries, struggles, insecurities, fears, etc. you start developing a great deal of self-knowledge, allowing for self-reflection and self-discovery. Journaling allows you to process your emotions making it easier to find solutions. Meaning it helps with critical thinking and decision making (according to verywellmind).

Why do I (Julia) like it?

I typically journal first thing in the morning, while I am eating breakfast. I have found this is the best time to fit it into my daily routine.

I simply start by writing what’s on my mind and see where it takes me. This could be about things that happened in the past couple of days, emotions that have come up, challenges I am facing or a reflection on the past week.

My entries vary in length as I don’t pressure myself to hit a specific word count each time, but I do journal for around 20 minutes. The set timeframe is important to me as it means that if I don’t have more to say I just mindfully enjoy my breakfast until that time is up. Before I did that I found myself just writing a couple of sentences for the sake of it and jumping straight into my emails, but this way there is enough space in case something else comes up.

I really love journaling as a tool. It gives me a lot more clarity and I just feel lighter: It’s almost as if by capturing my thoughts on paper, the words won’t come to haunt me as much for the rest of the day. I also feel like it creates some much-needed distance between the situation and my experience of it.

How do I get started?

Let’s get one misconception out of the way: You do not have to be a writer or even creative to journal. Journaling is simply a process- it’s your safe space, intended only for your eyes, allowing yourself to write about your experiences without judgment, fear or embarrassment.

The best way to get started is to simply get pen down on paper. This can feel quite intimidating and overwhelming as you might not know what to write about and may find you having nothing to say. But letting your thoughts flow freely is easier than it sounds once you start writing. You can write about your relationships, your insecurities, your worries. Just keep writing and see where it takes you. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar or your inner critic, just write unedited. 

There is no right or wrong way to journal. The only really important thing is to be honest with yourself. This is your time to express what is on your mind and reflect on it.

If you are still finding it difficult to start you could always use some prompts. There are tones you can find with a simple google search but three of my favorite you could try are:

  1. Who are the 5 people you spend the most time with and why? How are they affecting you?
  2. If you weren’t worried about people’s opinions or financial stability, what would you be doing with your life?
  3. What are all the things you feel like you should do, but actually don’t want to at all? 

What does the research say?

Research conducted by Ullrich, P. M., & Lutgendorf, S. K. (2002) showed that individuals who wrote about stressors and traumatic events from both emotional and cognitive aspects experienced less physical illness and greater positive growth. Specifically, they asked individuals to journal at least twice a week for 10 minutes, with the following prompt:

“We would like you to keep a journal of your deepest thoughts and feelings about this topic over the next month. We are particularly interested in understanding how you have tried to make sense of this situation and what you tell yourself about it to help you deal with it. If the situation you’re describing does not yet make sense to you, or it is difficult to deal with, describe how you are trying to understand it, make sense of it, and deal with it and how your feeling may change about it.” Ullrich, P. M., & Lutgendorf, S. K. (2002)

Meaning that in order to get the most benefits out of journaling, rather than just focusing on your emotions, it is helpful to try to process them as well. In other words, using that time to reflect on a situation to see what you’ve learned from it.

What are the major takeaways?

Journaling is great and comes with a ton of benefits, so it’s definitely worth a try!

One tip: besides writing down your feelings, try to also spend some time reflecting and problem-solving to get the most out of it.

This post is part of the what is… Wednesday series.  A free weekly series explaining various trending topics.



Ullrich, P. M., & Lutgendorf, S. K. (2002). Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24(3), 244-250.


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