Have you ever kept a journal? If not, you may be surprised to learn that journaling can be a powerful tool for helping you reach your health and wellness goals.
When many people think of journaling, they think of keeping a diary — writing down things that happen to you and how you feel about them. While this is one form of journaling, there are many other approaches, all of which provide various physical or psychological benefits. Some of the highest-achieving people use journaling to track progress toward their goals, boost their motivation, and improve their mental health. Here’s how journaling can help you.
Identify patterns and triggers
If you’re trying to lose weight, keeping track of your food, water, sleep, and activity is a good way to identify any patterns that may be creating obstacles. You may notice that you consume more calories on days when you don’t get enough sleep, that you make better food choices during the workweek, or that you feel more motivated to work out when you drink more water. Women may also find it helpful to track their menstrual cycle and take note of any related symptoms — like PMS cravings or weight gain — so they can view these for what they really are and not as major setbacks in your weight-loss journey.
Help you achieve your goals
Writing something down signals your brain that it’s important. When you write down your goals, it triggers a part of the brain known as the reticular activating system (RAS), which acts as a filter between the conscious and the subconscious mind. The RAS then begins to pay attention to opportunities and tools that will help you achieve those goals. Have you ever test-driven a new car, and then suddenly you start seeing that car everywhere? That’s how the RAS works. Once your subconscious is programmed to notice something, it becomes tuned in to that item or that goal.
To program your goals into your subconscious, write them down every day. It isn’t enough to just write them once and re-read them: the act of writing them is important. Try to write ten goals every day. Eventually, you might be surprised to realize how your goals have changed or which ones have come to fruition.
Heal emotional wounds
Journaling has been found to be a powerful tool for improving emotional health. Keeping emotions suppressed or failing to deal with difficult situations can lead to stress, which has negative effects on both physical and emotional health. But writing about stressful or negative situations in your life helps you structure and organize them, ultimately allowing you to move past them, says James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, who has studied the connection between expressive writing, trauma, and health.
Improve your health
Because it reduces stress, regular journaling can also improve your physical health. Chronic stress is linked to a number of health problems, including headaches, digestive issues, weight gain, heart disease, and sleep problems. In separate studies, writing about stressful or negative experiences helped improve immune function in patients with asthma, arthritis, and HIV.
Keeping a gratitude journal has also been shown to have a positive impact on both physical and psychological health. People who regularly practice gratitude report experiencing fewer aches and pains, improved self-esteem, and less stress. They also tend to sleep better, exercise more, experience lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder following trauma, and display more sensitivity and empathy towards other people.
How to do it
Journaling can seem strange or intimidating to people who have never done it, but don’t overthink it. Get a designated notebook — one that you’ll enjoy writing in, but that isn’t so nice that you’ll be afraid to mess it up. Pick a time where you can write freely without being interrupted. Many people find it helpful to journal first thing in the morning to help them plan their day, or you can do it in the evening as a way to recap your day.
Set a timer for ten minutes and write whatever comes to mind. You may want to mix it up — write down your goals one day, spend some time the next day processing a stressful situation, and then write ten things you feel grateful for. As you get more comfortable with it, you can increase the time you spend writing.
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