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Health Benefits of Journaling

By Susan Greco, Walden University

Those of us in the counseling profession who work with couples routinely hear the same grievance. Either one partner or both maintain they want to be able to communicate better. Toward the end of each session, one of the homework assignments I often give is a list of narrative prompts each partner must respond to in a personal journal. Why is this so important? Reflective writing by hand versus typing on a tablet or laptop slows the entire thinking process. And, this is the objective! For the individual to learn to speak better, she must learn to listen from within.

Reflective journaling and letter writing are skills linked to an ancient tradition which dates back to the 10th century in Japan. Successful people throughout history have kept journals. Presidents, artists, doctors, and inventors through the last eleven centuries have maintained them for posterity and essential documentation purposes.

Whether one suffers from an eating disorder, depression, or the various anxieties nearly all humans are sometimes challenged, journaling allows a venue to channel the hundreds of roaming thoughts which occur throughout the day. The beauty of this kind of reflective practice is that it is mobile. All you need is a piece of paper and a pen of some sort. I prefer to keep my notes in a leather-bound book. It is as beautiful as it is useful. It provides structure and a way for me to be responsible for the twenty-five dollars it cost to purchase it.

The practice of mindful journaling is now evidenced to strengthen the mental clarity of those who struggle with severe personality disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other manic behaviors. Contrary to popular belief, our forefathers and foremothers embraced moments of “pause” in their task-filled days to reflect. It is likely the need for respective contemplation looked no different in yesteryear than it does today. In truth, human busyness has become a burden of choice, rather than a thing we suddenly have no control. We are chronically disconnected from ourselves, our beloveds, and the friendships we claim are so essential to our “is-ness.”

According to creativity guru Julia Cameron (age 70), who penned The Artist’s Way in 1992, she teaches individuals from all vocations to incorporate the meditative practice of writing “Morning Pages.” The book was originally titled, Healing the Artist Within, but was turned down before being self-published. And, even though Cameron went on to join others on the list of Top 100 Best Self-Help Books of All Time, she has gathered more satisfaction from teaching those who claim to be non-creative, how to be just that. She says, “There is no such thing as a non-creative person, but people can become blocked.” I agree, wholeheartedly. As an eight-year teacher of high school students, I hear it all day, every day. In my art classes, students are expected to perform writing tasks in addition to their requisite creative projects. Four years ago, I began the process of incorporating meditative (written) reflections at the beginning of every class. And, just as one would expect, my darling teenaged boys and girls grumble and want to know when they can stop. Each must write for five continuous minutes until a timer cues them to conclude the meditation. And, just as Cameron stresses, “aha” moments do happen. Over the years, I have read accounts of hopelessness, loss, self-doubt, and fear. What this tells me is that something does happen when we as humans commit to the old-fashioned act of written cleansing. As I write this, I can say with all transparency, writing 15 to 20 minutes a day has the power to change your life. It has mine.

In all truth, I am no different than you. My life is crazy busy. If you are like most women (and men), you write or type only what you must. It is less of a commitment and more a directive of the jobs which sustain us. It is less a want and more a chore of this work. It is less a source of relaxation and more a task we cannot wait to be done with.

If you have journaled before – even if you did it just once – you already know what to do. If you need a reminder, or if you have never experienced the healthful “purge” of mental clutter, you will need 3 things: (1) A quiet place (sans all technology, if possible); (2) A favorite writing pen; and (3) A journal or notebook devoted solely to your writing process. As you incorporate this new ritual into your daily routine, reserve any self-judgment, you may have. This is not about perfection; rather this is about you connecting with all the many (and sometimes chaotic) thoughts which paralyze and keep us all from getting our essential work done. One final thought: Better communication outside the bedroom door, leads to better dialogue once inside.

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