8 Surprising Ways Journaling Helps Your Mental Health

by Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro

Journaling was long thought of a practice reserved for us writers (and middle schoolers who have a top-secret diary), but that's no longer the case: People of all ages have found journaling for mental health to be an efficient, therapeutic, and relaxing activity.

In recent years, bullet journals — aka, journals that are all about goal setting and staying organized — have become super popular on social media and IRL. However, some people have gravitated towards keeping gratitude journals, journals with daily prompts, or just plain old notebooks where they scribble whatever comes to mind. Not to mention, digital journals and journaling apps are also immensely popular, particularly for those who don't like to use old school pen and paper.

So, why is the practice of writing down our most intimate thoughts, fears, and accomplishments seemingly beneficial to the mental health of so many people, anyways? Sure, the simple answer may be that writing things down can help release some of the feelings and thoughts you may be bottling up. However, a growing body of research is proving keeping a journal has way more benefits to both our physical and mental health than most of us probably thought.From boosting your memory to decreasing depressive symptoms, here are eight proven ways that journaling can have a positive impact on your mental health.


It Can Improve Your Memory

As Forbes reported, studies have shown that expressive writing (such as writing in a journal) can improve your memory. In fact, one study found writing about stressful or negative situations reduced intrusive thoughts — which, in turn, improved the memories of study participants. In short, the more cognitive energy your brain expends on stress, the less cognitive energy it has to form memories. Luckily, journaling can help your brain de-stress.


It Can Ease Anxiety

Though writing has long been believed to be an effective way to relieve anxiety and stress, there is now a growing body of research to support that belief: A Michigan State University study conducted in 2017 found journaling reduced feelings of worry — making it a great outlet for people with anxiety, or even just a tendency to overthink.

“Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what worriers often get 'burned out' over, their worried minds working harder and hotter,” Dr. Jason Moser, an associate professor of psychology, and the director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, said of the study in the press release. “This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head.’”


It Can Also Help You Sleep Better

TIME reported that a 2013 study found that research participants who were instructed to journal about traumatic experiences — rather than the group that was instructed to avoid writing about their emotions — tended to have an improvement in their sleep. Not to mention, the study also showed participants who journaled had physical wounds that healed quicker.


Gratitude Journals Can Make You Kinder

Keeping a journal specifically focused on expressing gratitude has a ton of mental health benefits. For one, University of California Berkeley's Greater Good Magazine reported a study conducted at the college found gratitude writing can boost your mood, and improve your mental health — even in people who have diagnosed mental health disorder.


It Can Lessen Symptoms Of Depression

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders was the first ever research to show that expressive writing could be used to decrease symptoms of depression in people with major depressive disorder (MDD). As a matter of fact, researchers found that, at the end of the study, people with MDD who were instructed to write had a huge decline in depression scores.


Keeping A Dream Journal Can Make You More Creative

Research from 2017 discovered that keeping a dream journal of some sorts was linked to a surge in creative thinking. Not only can keeping a dream journal help you feel more creative, but it can also provide insight into your subconscious mind. Pretty cool, huh?


Journaling About Your Goals Can Help You Achieve Them

Writing your goals down, versus merely listing them off in your head, can actually make a difference in whether or not you achieve them. A study from the Dominican University of California showed people who wrote down their goals achieved more than those who didn't. Further, the people who wrote down their goals and shared them with friends were even more likely to achieve what they had set forth in their writing — compared to those who kept written goals to themselves.


It Can Also Improve Your Leadership Skills

Setting aside personal time to write in a journal may not seem like it pertains to developing leadership skills, but surprisingly, it does: "A practice I have found useful, as have many of my executive education students and coaching clients, is centuries old: keeping a journal," wrote Eric J. McNulty, the Associate Director for the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, in the magazine strategy + business. "Setting aside as little as ten minutes a day to record your thoughts stimulates reflection critical to making sense of the fast-moving world around you, which is, in turn, essential to effective leadership."

Finding a journaling practice or style that works for you may take some time, but once you find your niche, the benefits of this simple practice are invaluable. So, what are you waiting for? Pick up a pen!