Research indicates that expressive journaling can help regulate emotions, improve immune functioning, process trauma, and decrease stress.
There is no right way to keep a journal. However, if you can focus on both thoughts and feelings when you journal, you’ll likely get more out of it. Research suggests that addressing cognitive and emotional aspects helps reduce stress and process experiences.
Here are five different ways that you can keep a journal. This is not an exhaustive list, and there are countless ways to journal! But these ideas might get you started if you don’t have a regular journaling practice.
1. Sketchbooks & Art Journaling
Keeping a sketchbook means you can draw, write or collage your thoughts and feelings, instead of only writing about them. Visual journaling bypasses words and taps into the right brain, which is less analytical and more emotional.
Even though it can be therapeutic, you can definitely have fun with your sketchbook. For inspiration, try searching for #artjournal or #artjournaling on Instagram and see what other people are up to. Try different mediums, like watercolor crayons and markers, acrylic paint pens, charcoal pencils, ink — the art supplies alone can get you hooked on visual journaling!
Research supports the power of using visual elements in your journaling practice. In one study, visual journaling helped med school students with stress, anxiety, and mood. Another study concluded that visual art journaling helped participants recover from trauma.
If you’re employed in a creative field, keeping your own personal visual journal can be crucial in fostering your own artistic voice. Completing projects at work usually means meeting external expectations and criteria. In your art journal, you can make whatever you want. Staying in touch with your own muse can go a long way toward preventing creative burnout at work.
2. Type your journal into a device
Remember those puffy diaries with gold-leaf writing on the cover and a brass lock? Journaling on your computer or phone is the opposite of that: secure, virtual (unless you print it out), and modern.
Keeping an online document as your journal works well if you don’t like your handwriting, or maybe you have concerns about the privacy of hand-written pages. Also, it’s very convenient since you’re likely at your computer every day.
Set a reminder to journal daily. Even five minutes can help clear out some head space and alleviate stress.
3. Journal as a gratitude practice
The benefits of a gratitude practice are very well-documented. In this article, the authors state that “gratitude significantly predicts less depression and anxiety symptoms” in the general population.
Gratitude is a protective factor against anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Practicing gratitude is associated with improved relationships with others. Equally significant, it is connected to a less critical, less punishing, and more compassionate relationship with the self.
The most common way to keep a gratitude journal is to simply list out five to ten “I am grateful that…” statements per day. It sounds simple because it is, but it is also powerful.
Bonus points if you take something that is harder to be grateful for, and turn it into a gratitude statement. For example, it’s easy to feel grateful for being healthy or taking a vacation. But when you can find gratitude in a health problem (“I am grateful that I am getting better at asking for help.”) or a difficult boss (“I am grateful that I am learning how to set boundaries at work.”) you will notice some serious transformation in your thoughts and feelings.
4. Voice record your thoughts
Speaking out loud can be powerful. Also, recording your thoughts and feelings is fast, easy, and convenient. It works particularly well for people who are verbal processors, and it can aid in real-time brainstorming.
Use your phone, computer, or an old-school voice recorder. There are several free apps for voice recording. If you’re old like me, you remember those teeny-tiny micro-cassette tapes from back in the old days. So cute!
I couldn’t find any research studies comparing written to spoken journals, so I’m not sure how, or if, they differ in their benefits. I suspect the benefits are similar. And, voice-recording your journal will be more beneficial than not journaling at all.
5. Use Journal Prompts
A prompt is usually a sentence stem that you complete, or a question that you answer. Examples include “I am grateful that…” and “What is one thing you are looking forward to?”
Using prompts can help you focus on a particular area of your life, as well as free you from any “What do I write about?” concerns. You can change up your prompts as you want, and combine free writing with responding to prompts.
Keep a list of prompts handy to choose from every day, or respond to the same prompts for several days to go deeper in a particular area. If you google “journal prompts”, I promise you will find more prompts than you can ever use.
Do What Works for You
Remember, there is no right or wrong approach to journaling. No matter which type of journal you decide to keep, it’s completely up to you. The simple act of taking the time to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings is what’s truly important.
Do you want to work with a therapist on boosting your mood, alleviating anxiety, or tapping into your creativity? I offer online therapy in 29 states. Feel free to reach out to me and see if we are a good fit to work together. If we’re not, I can help you find a therapist who is right for you.