At some point in your life, you’ve probably kept a diary, right? Most likely when you were a kid or a teenager. Maybe it was just a place to write your juvenile ideas and fears, or maybe it was a place where you revealed details about your first crush or your first kiss, or maybe it was darker than that…
You likely didn’t realize it at the time, but the child in you might have been onto something. A growing body of research shows that keeping a journal is good not just for posterity, and also for sanity and overall good health.
In fact, the research suggests that writing about your day, your worries and your thoughts helps you sleep better, solve problems more effectively and become more relaxed. It might even help physical health—specifically, it is thought to decrease depression and anxiety and strengthen the immune system.
This is especially true during times of high-stress: After a divorce, keeping a journal was not only reported to help people understand the experience and move forward more easily, it also resulted healthier heart rates.
Keeping a journal is also beneficial for the future you, researchers say, as it’s a place you can go to re-read about your past and keep your memory intact as you age.
If the thought of starting to journal is daunting, and you’re feeling like you don’t even know when and where to begin, here are some tips:
It doesn’t have to be perfect
Your journal doesn’t have to be an award-winning work of prose. It doesn’t even need to be written in complete sentences. Jumbled up, run-on sentence train of thought, or even bullet point thoughts are fine. Or mind maps or lists. There are no rules. Just get something on the page.
3 am Journaling
If you’re someone who has trouble sleeping in the middle of the night, keep a pen and journal next to your bed. When you’re tossing and turning, turn to your journal and write about the thoughts swirling in your head that are keeping you up.
If you don’t feel stressed out at the moment, or like your thoughts need to be worked through, then use it as a place to write about your goals and plans for the day, month, year. At some point, this might shift to writing about other things in your life.
A Good Pen
There’s nothing worse than writing with a crappy pen. Sounds silly, but keeping a pen that feels nice in your hands, and writes well on the page, goes a long way in getting you excited to write.
If you’re someone who needs structure, create a routine. For example, start writing one line each night before you go to sleep about something that happened, something you learned, or something you did that day.
Modern Day Journaling
If you can’t wrap your head around old-school pen and paper, keep a digital journal. Whatever gets you writing.
Like diet, when it comes to journaling, the best thing to do is to dabble around and see what works for you. Maybe a journal for you isn’t a place where you vomit on the page about all your deepest fears and worries. Maybe it’s a place where you express joy and happiness, or a place that helps you make sense of things, or even a place that helps you savor the little things in life. Make it yours.