Have you ever felt like when you try to explain something out loud, the pieces aren't all coming together like you thought…but when you write things out, it makes so much sense?! Or maybe you’ve noticed that fiercely scribbling out your upsetting feelings on paper to get it out of your head brings such a huge sense of relief, just to vent out the intensity for a second. Lots of people experience this relief and sense of calm with the powerful tool of journaling. It is a great  way to organize our thoughts a bit better and use writing to cope with our feelings. 

The many benefits of  journaling to address our thoughts and feelings  include the relief that follows laying out our thoughts on paper; tracking our emotions, triggers, and physical symptoms related to our thinking patterns; figuring out and processing what is helpful or not in our coping;  and thinking at our writing pace so that we can slow any racing thoughts so they are more manageable. 

Journaling is an amazing tool to help us learn more about ourselves that we didn’t realize. We often feel that we know ourselves well enough and don’t need writing to figure it out. However, if we try journaling, we may find that it increases our insights into ourselves and how our thinking influences our feelings, behavior, and overall functioning in our lives. Sometimes, people find that journals with prompting questions and/or tasks help guide them in a positive direction in their journaling practice. Some ways to do this could be with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) thought challenging, practicing gratitude exercises; mindfulness exercises; creating task/goals lists-breaking down large goals into smaller and more manageable ones; or tracking physical symptoms related to our emotional experience. Journaling not only helps with self reflection, but it boosts our sense of self efficacy, and shows us that we can take some control back in our lives. 

Over time, I have seen that journaling using prompts based in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have been especially effective as it gives a new perspective on how to view and analyze different situations that are upsetting to us. Some prompts you may notice are helping us to highlight the negative thought and situation that may have contributed to it, thinking about whether this is emotions based or reality based thinking, finding new ways to view the situation and/or thinking about what we might tell a loved one if they were faced with similar thinking and/or circumstances. This method helps to reduce or even extinguish upsetting thoughts and/or feelings so that they don’t rule our existence. 

It is recommended to journal with the guidance of a professional if you feel like your journaling often takes you to a dark place, whether that be becoming more stuck in thoughts related to depression, anxiety, or trauma without any relief or benefit to journaling. I say this because some people may ruminate over the negative thoughts recorded and this is not useful. Some ways to manage this could be writing out the negative thoughts and then throwing out the page, burning it, or shredding it, whatever fits with how you feel. Avoid journaling about trauma independent of a professional. The reason I say this is because recording traumatic events and/or issues related to the trauma(s) can ultimately increase distressing thoughts and feelings, leading to potential decompensation in our emotional regulation and functioning. 

There are many structured journals with amazing prompts that can be found online that I highly recommend. One is called “Worry for Nothing: A Discreet, Guided Anxiety Journal | Journal with Prompt to Calm Anxiety & Improve Mental Health | Promotes Stress Relief & Self Care”. See link for additional information ( https://a.co/d/fuNxlkB).  Using such a tool with the guidance of your therapist can help increase your own insights and help your therapist understand you better as a person and how they can help solidify your emotional coping artillery.

In closing, journaling can be utilized as an incredibly effective tool to help us identify and manage our thoughts and emotions. I prefer the journals with specific prompting questions to guide me along in my wellness journey; but of course, everyone has a different preference and that is okay. As long as you are taking note of your negative thoughts and feelings to help shift them to a more positive and empowering place, this is the true benefit of journaling and its power.

- Jackie Martinez, LMSW (NY), LCSW (NC)

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