Entity's guide on how to make the most of journaling.

Sometimes, when you’ve had a bad day or experienced a meaningful moment with someone you care about, the first thing you want to do is head home to recreate the moment. Maybe you need to write down to clear your head. That’s when a journal can come in handy … since you know only you will read its page, journaling can help you achieve personal growth by learning about yourself. This is an important part of growing and facilitating change in your thought process and behavior to accomplish your most optimal health.

That being said, if all you’re doing is writing down worries and fears that you don’t want anyone to know, you could be doing yourself a disservice.

Journaling can be a pleasant release for deep thoughts or concerns. If you’re faced with a situation you’re not sure how to handle, writing your options down can allow you to see clearly what may have been muddled in your head.

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Research from the American Psychological Association shows expressive writing can enhance memory and lessen the likelihood of intrusive negative thoughts. Many people keep a journal to record the defining moments in their lives, because they want to be able to look back on the downfalls they experienced on their paths to success.

In addition, many people keep journals of everyday experiences as a record of memories – both funny and sad – that are nostalgic fun to read in the future. Keeping a journal also lets you look back on past experiences to see how your thought process has changed and how much you’ve grown.

In other research from the APA, Dr. Smyth from Syracuse University says that it’s not enough to just write down things that trouble you in a journal. The stress relief and health benefits of writing come from striving to make sense of your feelings and reasoning behind the actions.

“You need focused thought as well as emotions,” says Susan Lutgendorf from the University of Iowa. “An individual needs to find meaning in a traumatic memory as well as to feel the related emotions to reap positive benefits from the writing exercise.”

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Lutgendorf conducted a study with doctoral student Phil Ullrich which found that “people who relive upsetting events without focusing on meaning report poorer health than those who derive meaning from the writing. They even fare worse than people who write about neutral events.”

Venting on paper has been shown to exacerbate negative emotions because writing them down can make them seem solid and true, or cause you to get caught up in the sensation of what you think is the release of negativity. Just as journaling can help keep your thoughts organized, it can also cause you to reflect too much on a decision or overthink the little things you’re worried about.

In cases like these, allowing the feelings to dissipate on their own is a much more peaceful way of reducing tension.  If you’re only turning to journaling as a way to unleash those overwhelming emotions, either change your approach or reconsider journaling as a way to help you.

To sum up, use journaling as a way to record events or learn about yourself, but not to vent about negative experiences.

Edited by Ellena Kilgallon

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