Benefits of Journaling


Written by Georgia Dykstra, Editorial Editor

Personally, I’m proud to say that I had THAT journal when I was 10. You know, the one that was filled with sparkly, blue ink and love letters to all the boys I was pulling in 5th grade. But not everyone appreciates the sentiment: some people have shame. So, I get why hearing about journaling as a high school student may be incredibly cringey and hard to listen to, but it can be a useful tool for all people, especially teenagers. 

I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you that journaling is beneficial, but I don’t think anyone truly breaks it down and explains why it can be helpful for other people. So, let’s start off with a basis of what journaling actually does. Journaling helps people practice two main skills: labeling emotions and organizing thoughts, which improves memory. The safe space without outside judgments that journaling provides makes it easier to communicate those complex emotions more effectively. It’s also a more linear form of processing than actual thinking inside of your head. What I mean by this is that you can only write one word at a time, so you can only focus on one thought as you write. This makes it less overwhelming because it’s harder to branch off into three or four different thoughts, anxieties, or feelings at the same time. So, it forces you to organize your thoughts and focus on only one at a time. 

Now that we’ve established what journaling actually accomplishes and how, let’s get into the why: why does it really matter and what do those things do for us?

Labeling emotions is essentially the first stepping stone to understanding them and eventually working through them. Whether working through them alone or with other people, it helps to better understand ourselves and our personal needs. When we start labeling, understanding, and working through emotions, improvements are seen with mental health issues that range from slight to extreme anxiety and depression.

The organization and linear style of journaling improves memory which can then lead to a more organized and less panicked thought process during overwhelming events. It helps you understand and recognize the reality of situations because your brain has the practice of understanding what’s going on around you with less interference from intrusive and overpowering emotions. It essentially gives your brain the opportunity to better understand the world and other people, which helps explain what is happening and can reduce confusion, stress, and anxiety. 

Now, how exactly do you journal? I had similar questions a little over two years ago when I picked it back up. Personally, I started out of desperation. I felt lonely and sad all of the time, so it started as an attempt to find an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. At the time, like many teens, I didn’t have a therapist, so I had very little experience with dealing with my emotions in a healthy way, and I didn’t really know how to do it. I think my lack of experience and knowledge actually helped me a lot because journaling is a very personal and therefore personalized experience. It isn’t going to look the same for everyone, so it was better for me to go into it without a clear idea of what I wanted to do because I had never done it before, and I suggest this strategy for others. It’s also helpful to just try things out. Try different writing styles, different schedules, or no schedule at all. Even making purely aesthetic decisions for journaling can be enjoyable and stress reducing in of itself: like whether to use the pink sparkly pen or the gold one. If it’s helpful to have some type of goal, you can incorporate that. The nice thing about journaling is that it’s a practice that’s all about you, so you get to choose how you want to do it.

There are, however, some journaling habits that are going to significantly improve your experience. The first one is handwriting. It doesn’t have to be on paper, but it is proven that writing things down as opposed to typing them allows you to think more critically and thoroughly about what you are writing about. Also, nothing beats the feeling of flipping through your own little book when you finish. The second one is writing honestly without an audience. You can’t let yourself worry about other people reading it or even you reading it in the future because it will prevent you from being honest. You have to have the mentality that you are writing to write, not writing for someone else to read. It’s important to have this mindset because if you write for an audience you change or censor things, or you no longer write honestly to shield yourself from the judgment of others. It’s going to discourage you from continuing to journal because you won’t get the benefit of processing your emotions since you aren’t actually writing down how you feel. It’s definitely hard to do, so it may take time. But the end goal is to write as honestly and freely as possible without the added worry of what people will think if they read it. 

Since I started seriously journaling two years ago, I’ve grown a lot in not only my understanding of myself, but also how I process my own thoughts and feelings. It’s definitely still hard. I think it will always be difficult for me to sit down and write rawly about my insecurities and flaws or issues with friends and family, but I’ve noticed that after the especially difficult entries, I feel more clear minded, less stressed, and overall just lighter. It’s not some miracle fix for problems; that comes from real world application and what you decide to do about how you feel, but it’s definitely a starting point for working through issues, especially for people like me who can’t fall asleep at night if they don’t understand what’s going on inside of their own head.