Keeping a journal is a powerful tool for intentional living—and the benefits of journaling don’t end there. It can improve so many different aspects of life, such as your physical health, productivity, and mental wellbeing.
If you’re curious to learn more, keep reading for seven reasons why I recommend journaling to absolutely everyone. I’ll also share a few tips to help you start journaling, even if you don’t consider yourself a writer.
7 Powerful Benefits of Keeping a Journal
1. Improved emotional intelligence
One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m a highly emotional person. In some ways, this is my superpower—I’m compassionate and understanding—but it can also overwhelm me. Left unchecked, my emotions can rule my life and hold me back from doing what I want most.
Fortunately, I’ve learned that my journal is a tool to help me manage my feelings. I can explore my emotions within the safe boundaries of its pages. Instead of reacting to every fear or hurt, I can live in alignment with my values and be intentional with my actions.
My journal helps me understand the message (or the ‘why’) behind my emotions. It could be that I’ve been lacking in self-care or that there’s a genuine issue that I need to resolve—regardless, the process of probing the emotion gives me the pause I need to respond.
Journaling can help us gain a better understanding of our emotions. In turn, it can help us exercise empathy and improve emotional intelligence (EQ). This is because when we have a better understanding of our emotions and how they influence our actions, we start to understand and accept that other people (rightly or wrongly) act on their emotions too.
2. Improved physical health
When we take care of our mental health, our bodies benefit too. One explanation for the physical health benefits of journaling is that it decreases the production of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. We produce these hormones as a response to stress as they increase concentration and strength, but continued stress and overproduction can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Relaxing activities like journaling give us a chance to relieve stress and slow the production of these hormones.
Cambridge University researchers have found that ‘expressive writing’ such as journaling can improve immune system function, reduce blood pressure, and improve lung and liver function. Another study found that mild to moderate asthma sufferers had clinically relevant improvements in their condition after four months of writing about stressful life experiences.
3. Better brain power
Most of us live at a frantic pace. When our mind moves at a million miles per hour to keep up with our lives, it’s easy to get lost in our thoughts. Journaling, especially with pen and paper, forces you to slow down.
It gives you the time and mental space to acknowledge and process each thought—and then decide whether it’s worth holding your attention or not. This allows you to let go of thoughts that don’t serve you, which leaves more space for your brain to work on everything else.
This idea is in line with a study conducted by Michigan State University. In the study, students classified as ‘chronic worriers’ were asked to journal before conducting a task. The results found that students that journaled performed more efficiently than those that didn’t, and the researchers put this down to a decrease in mental load.
A mind filled with worry is constantly juggling thoughts and multitasking. By putting these thoughts into a journal, we’re effectively creating space in our brains to boost our cognitive power.
4. It can help you process crisis or trauma
The reflective nature of journaling and expressive writing is beneficial for moving through crises or traumatic events. The Cambridge study on the physical and emotional effects of expressive writing that I referenced earlier also looked at the impact of journaling on trauma.
Traumatic events can be life-altering, but reflecting on emotions and the events that took place helped respondents process trauma. By reflecting on the events, researchers believe that the ‘development of a coherent narrative’ leads to a better understanding of the trauma.
On a more personal note, journaling is what saved me during a difficult year, where I lost my father and younger brother within months of each other. Of course, it didn’t make all my sadness go away overnight—but it did help me process my hurt and move forward in a way that felt right for me.
5. Safe experimentation
One of my favourite ways to use a journal is for decision making. A journal is a safe, private space that can be used to explore thoughts around a decision. I can freely ask myself difficult questions and answer honestly, or let my imagination run wild with scenarios to see how they make me feel.
For example, I turned to my journal to help me understand what life might be like after discovering I was pregnant with my first child. Like many new mums, I was excited but also nervous. Journaling helped me get clear on what I wanted and to also mentally prepare for other scenarios.
Of course, my journaling didn’t predict the future—but it did help me understand how I might feel about different situations. It made me think through some of the sacrifices, risks and compromises that I would face without having to live through them.
In the end, I know that my journaling habit has supported me on my motherhood journey, and I’m deeply grateful.
6. A positive outlook
Journaling can also help to shift our general outlook towards life.
Most people think that they are either ‘pessimistic’ or ‘optimistic’, and while that may be true, it isn’t something that is fixed. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examined the effect of recording hassles, positive experiences and neutral experiences.
The results found that those that focused on the positives felt better about their lives on the whole and more optimistic about the future.
I’ve also experienced this particular benefit of journaling firsthand. I think it’s because naturally, our minds tend to dwell on the negative things in life.
Of course, when we write about our experiences, the negatives things don’t just disappear! But our positive experiences get the chance to take up the space they deserve, and we end up with a more balanced view of life.
7. Journaling can help you reach your goals
The most important thing I’ve learned about journaling is that it leads to increased self-awareness. This helps us clarify our values and priorities in life, and ultimately, it empowers us to reach our goals.
In my case, I spent most of my life on a vague path towards “success”. I was working hard and ticking all the “boxes”, but deep down, I felt lost. The problem was that I hadn’t clearly defined what success looked like for me. I was working hard, but I wasn’t working towards anything that mattered.
It was only after I started to journal regularly, exploring thoughts, feelings and deep questions, that I began to realise what I wanted out of life. For the first time, I had clarity about my goals. I knew exactly what it looked like, how I wanted to feel and why I wanted it. This set me on a course of actions that aligned with my values, and from there, I was able to be more intentional with my time, money and energy.
A journaling habit can also help us keep on track towards our goals. When we constantly reflect on our actions and feelings, we can make sure that they are aligned with our goals and that we aren’t preoccupied with things that won’t get us there.
How To Start Journaling
If you’re feeling inspired by these many reasons to keep a journal, then here are a few things to help you get started.
First and foremost, remember that journaling is very different from writing for work or school. Your grammar, your spelling, your handwriting—none of it matters. Ultimately, what you write doesn’t even matter. Instead, it’s what you learn about yourself.
So take just get out a pen and paper, and leap! If you get stuck, check out these journaling tips for beginners.
If you don’t know what to write about, you can try using a journal prompt to help you get started. Here is a list of some of my favourites:
- 7 Mindful Journaling Prompts to Calm An Anxious Mind
- 21 Journaling Ideas + Prompts For Self-Discovery
- Self Care Journal Prompts For When Times Are Tough
- 7 Journal Prompts to Inspire Simplicity
What are your reasons for journaling? Let us know in the comments!