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How to journal your way to better mental health

Keeping a journal is shown to have a range of emotional and psychological benefits, from managing stress to improving sleep to boosting emotional intelligence

The great thing about journaling is that there are no rules. Journaling is for you and you alone. But establishing a new habit can be tough, as anyone who has tried to turn over a healthy new leaf can attest. As much as you plan to write every day, your mind can throw up all sorts of resistance to actually getting started.We’ve rounded up tips from academics, psychologists and spiritual teachers to help you lay the foundations for forming a beneficial and sustainable journaling practice.  

1. Use pen and paper 
It is after all the more romantic option, but handwriting also brings with it a number of benefits. Using pen and paper cultivates a naturally more meditative way of putting your thoughts on the page. The pause between thoughts and the sentence on a page, helps to slow the mind and encourage a more measured approach. It could also be good for your memory too. A study by the London School of Economics found that students who favour handwriting their notes found it easier to retain information.  

2. Give yourself twenty minutes 
Journaling shouldn’t feel forced or time limited so give yourself the freedom to choose an amount of time that feels natural for you. However, research suggests that setting aside 15 - 20 minutes to write in your journal on a regular basis was enough to help people deal with traumatic, stressful, or otherwise emotional events. 

3. Focus on thinking and feeling 
The key to effective journaling is to tap into and write about what you are both thinking and feeling – the head and the heart - rather than focusing on thoughts or feelings in separation. A study by the University of Iowa showed that writing in this way about stressful events helped people to reconcile with the events they had experienced.

4. Write freely 
Your journal is your private sphere in which you can write anything which comes to you in a free and uncensored way. Don’t pause to censor or edit your writing. Allowing words to tumble freely helps to express emotions, clear your mind and relax both mind and body. The practice of ‘freewriting’ helps you to unearth hidden depths of feeling and strengthens your individual voice.

5. Avoid screens 
Take yourself away from your laptop and phone to avoid the distractions of messages and updates. Not only is this good for lowering stress levels, researchers believe that our addiction to our smartphones is shortening our ability to concentrate. So, establishing regular time away from your screen could have a beneficial knock on effect for your attention span.