Let's face it, life isn't always pretty. It's not a string of Insta-ready moments and Facebook highlight reels - as much as we might wish it was, and as much as we curate our feeds to make it appear so. Sometimes like sucks just a little. At Simple Life, we try to incorporate simple habits which help us live life a little better every day, and to that end, I'd like to talk about journaling and how it can help us when life sucks...just a little, or a lot.
At some point over the last few generations of relative peace, we in the western world have come to expect that life is good, people should always be exceptionally happy and bubble (like a chewing gum commercial) and traumatic things only happen to other people, usually in faraway places. This very belief can often leave us ill-prepared for when things go a little wonky in our own lives. While I’m all for a positive disposition it’s also prudent to build in some habits in life to help us deal with the downs that come our way, as well as capturing the highs – enter journalling.
I have always been a diary keeper, from when I was a little girl recording my fantastical dreams, or petty slights in high school, to my parent’s separation and learning curves of life and love. I’m just one of those people who thinks best when she’s making a mark on paper, writing or drawing. It turns out though, that this isn’t just a quirk. There’s in quite a body of research emerging as to the real psychological and correlated physical benefits of journaling.
In the 1980’s, Dr. James Pennebaker created his Expressive writing paradigm in a study of the effects of expressive writing (journaling focused on feelings) on health. A pioneer in the field of health psychology at the time, his original research found that even 15 minutes of journalling over 4 consecutive days could reduce the need to seek medical services over the 6 mth observation (1). Later finding that “regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes” (2). Another study in 2009 found that journalling was an effective tool for managing depression in women, finding that ” Far from being a passive, ruminative, purposeless pastime, journalling was an evolving and sustaining action that enabled the women to gain insights and understandings into themselves and their depression.” (3). Yet another study in 2002 had found that journalling can help gain a better understanding of the positive that can come from stressful events “Writers focusing on cognitions (understanding through thought and senses) and emotions developed greater awareness of the positive benefits of the stressful event”. It’s key when we go through life’s hurdles to be able to draw out the positive learning, to gain meaning for and process the pain we feel when negative things happen. Journaling has been found to help increase creativity, stimulate learning and memory, increase discipline and emotional stability, along with the very real psychological and physical benefits mentioned above. For such a simple and inexpensive practice, it is incredibly powerful.
So as far as the research is concerned journalling is a great habit for increasing our mental and physical wellbeing as well as helping us keep some balance when things are not so great. Awesome …..now what? Well, now we try it. I’ve created a little how-to below to get you started on trying some basic journaling, but I’ll be posting a little 1-week Journalling challenge soon so you can try it at home and see how you go.
5 Step intro to Journalling
- Find Pen and Paper – This doesn’t need to be expensive, it can be anything but if you want to get something pretty for inspiration, then that’s good too.
- Set aside the time – Make sure you do this step, set aside 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to write, even if it means waking up earlier than the rest of the household to get it in and uninterrupted.
- Write – As Nike would say … Just do it, sit there and write. It doesn’t need to be pretty or perfect, it’s about psychological and emotional vomit on a page – I’m not kidding, I know it’s graphic but at least you get the point. Any time your inner perfectionist comes out re-read the line above – just write!
- Rinse and Repeat – Do this for 4 days at least, but I recommend 5 days the first time so it’s a weekday thing and then you can do step 5 on the weekend. Journalling for health is a practice, it’s an amazingly powerful tool if you stick with it, just like most other things that are good for us 🙂
- Review – After your initial experiment give yourself some time to reflect and review. What did you find easy, or hard? Did you notice how you felt while you were writing, did it bring things up? or where you stuck for what to write about? All these things teach us about ourselves and the more you learn the stronger you become and the more capable we are at handling what life throws our way.
Journalling challenge, book reviews and more coming soon as we build this page and our little tribe 🙂 Wishing you happy writing till then!