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How To Journal Your Way To Wellness

Journaling not only has proven to be beneficial for mental wellness, it can improve your physical well being too. 

By Nandita Iyer
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The suggested topics on top of the YouTube home screen are good indicators of one's current interests or obsessions. While expert talks and podcasts on nutrition and health and Hindustani music are staples for me, my secondary interests keep evolving. I was heavily into Korean and Japanese home vlogs at one point, then meal planning and crochet next, and my latest interest is journaling and note-taking.

By the end of 2023, I became curious about journaling as a means to cultivate a more organised life, enhance mental well-being, and have a slower year. Through my research, I discovered that journaling with pen and paper not only engages the neglected muscles of our dominant hand but also provides significant and enduring physical and mental health benefits, contributing to overall wellness.

In this week's column, I'll be sharing what I've learned in recent weeks about journaling, along with some tips to get you started.

Different Kinds Of Journaling

Morning Pages 

This popular concept was created by author Julia Cameron who wrote about it in her book The Artist’s Way. It involves three pages of stream-of-consciousness, long-hand writing every morning — ideally the first activity of the day. It is an approach to journaling as a way to unleash creativity by clearing the mind, overcoming self-doubt and enhancing self-discovery. Morning Pages are meant to be a private and unfiltered space for personal reflection, fostering creativity and mental clarity.

Gratitude Journal

A gratitude journal is a personal diary or notebook where individuals regularly record things they are thankful for. The practice involves reflecting on positive aspects of life, acknowledging blessings, and expressing gratitude for both big and small moments. It helps cultivate a positive mindset, enhance self-awareness, and promote overall well-being. Gratitude journals are a simple yet powerful tool to shift focus towards the positive aspects of life and foster a sense of contentment and mindfulness.

Art Journal 

Combining visual art and written expression, art journaling allows individuals to explore creativity through drawings, paintings, collages, and written reflections. I love author Preeti Shenoy’s art journals from her travels and everyday life. It is a way of having a record or placeholder for most days of the year that helps you slow down and savour the days.

Food Journal 

Food journals can be a great way to mindful eating. You can use it to:

-write broadly about the foods you ate during the day

-how you eat: was it on the go, at the table or with a friend?

-your mood when you ate: were you angry, bored or just hungry?)

-how did you feel after the meal: satisfied, still hungry, bloated, energetic or  sleepy

This kind of journal gives you a bird’s eye view of your diet that you can tweak for the better when you see the departments in which it is lacking. You can also note down any insights at the end of the day or week such as ‘I did not drink enough water today as I was too busy’ or ‘This week I ordered in too many times’ and it prompts you to take action in the right direction. All of the knowledge is within you and a food journal brings it out making it easy to course correct.

However, this kind of journaling isn’t meant for everyone. For those who suffer from eating disorders, this could create an undue fixation on the specific types and amounts of foods consumed throughout the day. 

Bullet Journal 

Bullet journaling is a versatile and personalised note-taking and organisation system created by Ryder Carroll. It combines the functions of a planner, to-do list, and journal in a customisable format. Users create "bullets" or symbols to represent tasks, events, and notes, allowing for rapid logging and easy organization. It is a popular method for those seeking an efficient and creative way to manage their daily tasks and thoughts.

What Are The Benefits Of Journaling?  

Numerous studies have explored the therapeutic benefits of putting pen to paper, revealing how the act of journaling can positively impact various facets of our health. While the mental health benefits are obvious, journaling also has several physical health benefits, establishing the fascinating mind-body connection.

  1. Stress reduction: By putting our thoughts and emotions on paper, we create a structured outlet for self-reflection, enabling us to process and make sense of life's challenges.

  2. Improved mood and emotional intelligence: The process of articulating our feelings fosters self-awareness, helping us better understand and manage our emotions. 

  3. Improved immunity: The act of expressing oneself through writing is thought to reduce stress-related inflammation, contributing to overall health and resilience.

  4. Better sleep:  A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that participants who engaged in nightly expressive writing reported improved sleep quality. Journaling decreases cognitive arousal, thereby overthinking and worrying, which help you fall asleep faster. 

  5. Better wound healing: Individuals who journaled regularly experienced faster wound healing compared to those who did not. The psychological benefits of journaling seemed to extend to the physical realm, showcasing the interconnectedness of mind and body.

  6. Clarity of goals and priorities: Individuals who consistently journal about their goals are more likely to achieve them, highlighting the motivational and organizational benefits of this practice. 

Some of the science-backed benefits of expressive writing that Andrew Huberman talks about in his podcast episode A Science-Supported Journaling Protocol to Improve Mental & Physical Health include relief from chronic anxiety and insomnia, reduced pain from chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, improved immune function (this was a surprise), improved outcomes in lupus and cancer treatment, betterment of arthritis

These changes were observed in a group of people who had to write about the most traumatic and difficult experience of their lives for 15-20 minutes each day for three to five consecutive days. 

Tips to get started

  1. Just start: If you have never journaled before, it may sound intimidating at first. Just start anyway. There is no need to focus on language, grammar or handwriting. The writing is for your eyes only and is completely judgment-free. When you start to write, you may find your mind to be empty. Sit down to write anyway and you will find that your mind is more accepting of you looking into it and plucking away on the strands of thoughts, with a few days of pursuing the habit. Prompts are a great way to get started too and you’ll find plenty of them online to suit every need.

  2. Be consistent: Some people journal first thing in the morning and /or the last thing before bed to reflect on the day. Some carry a pocket notebook to note down any thoughts as they go about their day. If you are new to the practice, you can even start with ‘one line a day’ which no one should find difficult to incorporate into their day. This is a baby step into the world of consistent journaling. 

  3. Make it a process to look forward to: Set aside an undisturbed corner of your home or workplace to journal. Light an incense stick or candle, or play some soothing music. While you don’t need to splurge on any fancy notebooks or pens to get into journaling, buy yourself a nice notebook and a pen if that helps kick off the process of writing by hand and loving it.

  4. Combine words and visuals: Your journal can include visual elements drawings, doodles, movie or concert tickets and even café bills.

  5. Focus on feelings and reflections: Instead of just narrating events, delve into how those experiences made you feel, fostering a deeper understanding of your emotions.

Incorporating journaling into our daily routine doesn't require elaborate prose or a dedicated amount of time. There is no right or wrong way to journal. The key lies in the consistency and authenticity of the practice. Whether it's jotting down thoughts, documenting gratitude, or reflecting on experiences, the act of journaling holds the potential to unlock a path to wellness, one word at a time.

So, grab a notebook, find a quiet corner, and start unlocking the healing power of your own words. Your well-being may just be a journal entry away.

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