In Praise of Journaling, the Therapeutic Writing Form Anyone Can Do

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

In the age of Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, sharing is caring. Putting stray musings out into the social stratosphere isn't worth a second thought for many people — those ideas are already being liked, retweeted or watched in a story.

Within such a world, however, is there room for keeping some of those thoughts to one's self? Is there a benefit to ruminating and meditating on something before putting an opinion out there?

Science says yes — and there's no better space to do it than in the lowly journal.

A journal — or a diary, to call it by another name — takes all those stray thoughts and helps work them into something coherent. It's a place for reflection, not quick reaction. It's a warm and familiar idea, which is likely why some of the earliest blogs had titles like Open Diary and LiveJournal. It's not just writing about your thoughts for all to see; it's journaling.

The difference, however, is that a pen-and-paper journal is a private space. That's one of the health benefits of journaling, actually, and why it's often used in forms of therapy.

"Introspection takes practice, which requires time and effort," clinical psychologist Ryan Howes wrote of journaling for Psychology Today in 2011. "Write as if no one else will ever read it — if you're writing for an audience you risk getting lost in the performance."

Journal therapy is an accepted form of expressive therapy, much like music or dance therapy. The idea is to focus primarily on the actual act of writing instead of on the final product, though it can also be used for setting an agenda for therapy.

Journaling has therapeutic effects even when done outside of specific journal therapy programs and practices, however. As listed by Psych Central, journaling can help one achieve clarity of thought, get to know themselves better, reduce their stress levels, problem-solve and get through arguments with other people. The last of those is particularly interesting: By journaling through the other person's point of view, it becomes easier to resolve conflict.

Compare the benefits of journaling to the detriments that are part and parcel of using social media. Spending too much time checking social platforms can lead to a reduced attention span, a serious case of FOMO and more serious psychological issues, especially among teens.

This isn't to say journals and diaries should replace Facebook and Twitter for everyone. For one, journaling is a fairly solitary activity. While alone time is healthy, socialization is good for one's well-being, and social media can help facilitate those connections. The balance, like most things, is in knowing how to moderate.

So pick up a notebook soon and jot some thoughts down. The health benefits of introspection are worth it.

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Kevin O'Keeffe

Kevin is the arts editor at Mic, writing about inclusion and representation in pop culture. He is based in New York and can be reached at kevin@mic.com.

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