Why write? Benefits of keeping a journal

Image ‘Recycle notebook’ by @jcsmilly / Deposit Photos

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and that means two things:

  1. The Mental Health Foundation publishes its latest research, ‘Surviving or Thriving? The state of the UK’s mental health’, which makes troubling, yet essential, reading.

  3. Social media noise and advice abounds – some good, some not so.

The Mental Health Foundation’s site is well worth a visit and has some great resources, including an A to Z of ‘all things mental health’. Looking through it, I noticed there was nothing listed under ‘J’. Yet writing a journal is something I’ve found to be immensely helpful over the years and there’s evidence to support the idea that I’m not the only one to benefit. Even Serena Williams keeps a journal, as noted by Jason Powers for Psychology Today.

When we take time to reflect and write a journal, we can:

Make sense of the s**t that happens

Simply writing freely – rather than composing first – about our everyday events and interactions with others can help our brains figure out what was going on there, and tie up loose ends. Brains seem to hate loose ends – it’s why we can find our minds wandering back to a faux pas or perceived slight, often referred to as ‘ruminating’ – see Melissa Kirk’s piece on ‘Why do we ruminate?’ for insights. Ruminating can drag us down if we let it. In this World of Psychology piece, therapist Melody Wilding suggests journaling for 15-30 minutes each day on the issues that are preoccupying us, and offers three great questions to help us learn from what we’ve written.

Be honest with ourselves

What we write in our journal can sometimes come as a revelation to ourselves; only by writing what pops into our head do we get to clearly see what’s going on in there, and express it in ways and words we might not use with anyone else.

Become more aware of our patterns of behaviour

When we write down our reflections regularly and keep a journal, we start to notice our patterns of behaviour – some of which may be working for us better than others. It can be particularly helpful to note the thoughts and feelings that led to those behaviours, as there’s often a cycle of think/feel/think/act.

Build our creativity

Our musings and mind-wanderings can lead us to make connections that we might not otherwise – which is where the best ideas are often found.

Record the amazing things that happen

Going on an exotic trip, expedition or adventure? Keep a journal – it will allow you to create a very personal account of what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste; the places you visit and the people you meet. Write, draw, add speech bubbles, photos and clippings.


Ready to get started? Keri Smith has some top tips in her article for The Guardian.

You may find this blog post useful: Signs that someone’s stressed at work – what can you do?.

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

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