JOURNALING – the act of writing down your thoughts – has a number of surprising benefits, particularly for your mental health. It improves memory, creativity and communication skills, and you’re more likely to achieve goals that you put in writing. It can also reduce stress and lead to more effective problem-solving. Journaling doesn’t have to be formal or fit the angst-ridden preteen “Dear Diary” trope. While you can go the high-tech route and use an app or program in your smartphone or tablet, going old-school might be the better bet. The blue-toned light from digital devices can actually disrupt melatonin production, which can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle.
You can buy a pretty or elaborate journal if you want, but a simple discount store notebook will also do the trick. Keep one on your nightstand or in a basket beside your bed for easy access when late-night thoughts rob you of sleep.
About 18 percent of Americans suffer from some degree of chronic anxiety, and millions more find worry to be an inevitable part of daily life. There are many behavioral changes that can help manage feelings of worry and anxiety. Of the 10 tips Psychology Today recommends for getting anxiety under control, several of them involve the use of a “worry journal.”
To start, jot down a brief description of each worry as it occurs to you. It may be as simple as “remember to pick up milk tomorrow,” but the point is to establish a habit of putting your thoughts on paper. Once they’re in black and white, there’s no need to keep mulling them over in your head. This is especially helpful if you’re a nighttime worrier. When turbulent thoughts are keeping you awake, write them down and rest easy knowing they can be dealt with in the morning.
If you’re the creative type, you’re probably familiar with this scenario: you’re drifting off to sleep when a brilliant idea for a project, story, or work of art hits you like lightning. “That’s such a great idea, I will definitely remember that tomorrow,” you promise yourself as you head off to dreamland. The next morning, you know you had an awesome idea – trouble is, you can’t remember what it was.
Keeping an inspiration journal and pen handy at your bedside can save you some regret. When the muse strikes, scrawl down a few key points and then give in to sleep, knowing your eureka moment will be there waiting in the light of day. A bedside journal will also allow you to jot down dreams (or nightmares) that wake you in the middle of the night and may also serve as creative inspiration.
Gratitude journals have generated a lot of buzz lately. They can help change your mood – and perhaps your life – by shifting your mind to a positive perspective. The premise is simple: about once a week, write down some things you’re grateful for. However, as University of California professor Robert Emmons points out, it does take some work for this practice to be effective.
Being specific about why you’re grateful for something, imagining what your life would be like without this person or thing, and making a conscious effort toward happiness are some of the methods he recommends for getting the most out of gratitude journaling. It can help alleviate stress and anxiety, leading to improved sleep and better overall health.
There are lots of other ways to use journals that can improve your daily life. Angry at someone? Write down what you want to say to them before you speak to them in person. This gives you time to reflect and might help you avoid saying something you’ll regret. If you have an upcoming presentation, test, or interview, write down the steps you can take to prepare and make a game plan.
The key to journaling is to consistently write down thoughts instead of letting them take up too much mental real estate, freeing you to rest easy, be present and focus on other things.