Journaling – Let It All Hang Out
Many of us tend to run from or stuff our feelings (see “Feeling, not Feeding, the Feelings”), and writing, or journaling, is an effective way to allow your feelings to come to the surface so you can deal with them.
Sometimes our conscious minds say one thing, but when we begin writing, we may be surprised at what comes forth. Journals are private, for your eyes only, and they allow you to become aware of what’s really going on for you — on the inside. You can get in touch with some of the slippery feelings that are hard to define; you can clarify your feelings for yourself; you can have an emotional release through the writing. Awareness is the first step to change and journaling is an important tool for anyone on a personal growth path.
Journaling is also a great stress-management technique. You can write whatever you want and, as they say, let it all hang out. Research has shown there are health benefits to journaling—it improves cognitive functioning, strengthens the immune system, lessens stress, helps clarify thoughts and feelings, and opens the way to understanding yourself better.
My experience with journaling
For many years, I kept a journal with my private thoughts and feelings. Many times I started a page with “I don’t know what to write about today.” But within a few minutes, my pen was gliding along the page, leaving a trail of words in its wake. When I allowed myself to feel whatever was bubbling up within me, I allowed the words to spill out on the page. I didn’t care about spelling or punctuation, I just let my hand keep writing and writing until I felt spent. Spent, but happier. Writing was very therapeutic.
When I first started the practice of journaling, I was afraid of examining my feelings. I had just started psychotherapy with the unspoken intention of figuring out why I was compelled to eat so much, and I was seeing my therapist twice a week. But my emotions had been pushed down for so long that I felt like Pandora’s box—I was concerned that if I accessed those long-suppressed feelings, I’d never be able to close them off again. I feared touching into that dark pit of emotions would open me up too much and then our session would be over and I’d be left alone with my raw feelings. So instead of facing my feelings for the first time on someone else’s schedule and with an audience, I went home after each therapy appointment and wrote in my journal. I wrote . . . I cried . . . I wrote some more . . . I cried some more. Each week I took my journal with me to my therapy session and read my tear-stained entries. Although I never allowed myself to cry during a session, the therapist and I talked about my feelings, and I received valuable counseling about what I had written.
Try it for yourself
It is important to express somewhere what you are feeling so you don’t end up pushing them down with food, booze, busyness, or whatever you personally use.
Journaling is one of the best personal-growth practices for emotional clarity, so it would be great to develop the habit of journaling every day. Opening up in this way can be a deep, cathartic experience. You will discover the magic of journaling as you write what’s going on for you, on the inside, honestly.
If you don’t know where to start, you could begin with “What is bothering me today?” or “What makes me happy?” or “I am really angry about ___________.” And, if all else fails, just write, “I don’t know what to write” over and over again. The important thing is to put pen to paper and start writing.
There is no need for any specific structure—just begin using the tool of writing and see what comes out. Write quickly, without censoring yourself; don’t worry about spelling and punctuation. Great writing is not required, only a desire to uncover hidden feelings and get to the core of your being.
If you really want to work on yourself you can trigger old memories using photographs, old address books, or other memory-joggers. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is another great way to get started (and continue on) with journaling!
Adapted from STOP EATING YOUR HEART OUT: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating chap. 2