Journaling for Good Health

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How Journaling Can Improve Your Health and Wellbeing

When you think about improving your health, what springs to mind first?

I bet it’s not journaling!

 

Most people’s first thoughts when it comes to getting into shape involve diet and exercise. Cutting back on beer and spuds and joining the gym might be your first thoughts on the subject and whilst those things are good and will undoubtedly have a positive impact on your health, there are other surprising ways to step-up your mental and physical health.

 

When I work with my clients, I always look at what they’re eating and whether they’re exercising, but I also suggest that they start keeping a journal.

 

I know this may have you thinking about Adrian Mole, but I promise you, there’s a stack of research that proves, journaling really can help you to improve your health. For a start, recording your experiences helps you to reflect on the changes you’re making. It gives you the opportunity to record what and how much you are eating and how you feel after you’ve eaten.

 

You can also record your emotions when you eat which will help you to identify emotional eating triggers and enable you to put strategies in place to avoid those triggers in future. It will help you to record your energy levels and how you feel before and after exercise. In short, journaling can create mindfulness and a sense of self-awareness around your health and wellbeing that can help you to alter your habits.

 

Recording your struggles and successes along the way also gives you valuable insight into your journey. It’s easy to forget just how difficult you found things in the beginning and you will be able to see just how much you’ve achieved by looking back through the pages.

But it’s not merely about keeping records. Researchers have discovered that effective journaling improves your quality of life in many other ways. It can help you think more clearly. By writing your thoughts down you are able to make better connections between your thoughts, feeling and behaviours.

“Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind,” says Natalie Goldberg.

And she’s not alone in her advice, according to research carried out by Baike & Wilhelm in 2005, keeping a journal can:

  • Boost your mood

  • Enhance your sense of wellbeing

  • Reduce depression

  • Improve memory

It also helps you to spot unhealthy patterns of thinking and shift from a negative mindset into a more positive one.

One key method you can use to shift your mindset is to use positive affirmations in your journal such as “I am a fit and healthy person,” “I enjoy eating healthy food every day,” or “I enjoy a daily exercise routine and feel fitter and more energetic as a result.”

It’s important to note that it’s not just your mental health that improves with journaling. Your physical health will improve too. There are studies that show that journaling can:

  • Strengthen your immune system

  • Lower your blood pressure

  • Improve your sleep

According to Dr James Pennebaker, journaling strengthens immune cells called T-lymphocytes and by improving your sleep, you’ll experience a range of knock-on health benefits including weight loss - as sleep deprivation often leads to poorer food choices and over-eating.

Writing down and reflecting on our daily experiences can also lead to better decision making, so in many ways, journaling can actually shape our lives.

“In the journal, I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather—in many cases—offers an alternative to it.” ~ Susan Sontag

 

If you would like to start journaling but don’t know where to start, here are ten tips for you:

 

1. Write by hand not on a computer

Writing by hand helps you to work things out in your mind in a way that typing does not. Writing by hand with a good pen in a beautiful notebook is a form of meditation. It might prove difficult at first because we are all so accustomed to typing on a keyboard but keep going; you will find it gets easier over time and don’t worry about your handwriting. Nobody else is ever going to read it.

 

2. Keep it private

This is not creative writing – if you want to write creatively then do so in a different place. This is a place to be yourself and work out your own thoughts and ideas.

 

3. Buy a beautiful notebook and a pen that moves smoothly across the page

There’s nothing better than a beautiful notebook to inspire your thoughts and a pen which moves smoothly will help you to keep up with your thoughts when they come tumbling out, as they sometimes will.

 

4. Find a private space, free from distractions

There’s nothing worse than being interrupted mid-sentence. Find a space and time of day when you will not be interrupted so that you can lose yourself in your thoughts.

 

5. Set aside a writing goal

Set an amount of time, say twenty-five minutes. Set an alarm on your phone and write without stopping until the alarm sounds or alternatively, decide on the number of pages that you would like to fill. In “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, she recommends writing three pages a day, first thing in the morning, but you might find writing at lunchtime or before bed suits you better. The important thing is that you give yourself a goal and then write without stopping until you fill your pages or your alarm sounds.

 

6. Cultivate gratitude

 Write down a list of three things you feel grateful for every day. Research has proved this to have a beneficial effect on health.

 

7. Write in a “stream of consciousness”

Don’t edit or censor your thoughts or feelings and don’t correct your grammar or spelling. Just see what emerges when you let your mind wander freely.

“I don’t journal to ‘be productive.’ I don’t do it to find great ideas or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me. It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.” Tim Ferriss

 

8. Start where you are

Describe your living situation, your work and your relationships. Are you right where you want to be? Explore where you are in life and which areas you could improve upon.

9. Describe your everyday experiences

This will help you to become more present and more mindful. Take notice of your meals as you eat them. Start to really notice how your food tastes, smells and looks. Recall this in as much detail as you can when you write your journal. If you go for a walk, try to remember the colours of the leaves, details about the people you see or the wildlife you notice along the way.

 

10. Keep a record of your exercise

If you go for a run, how did you feel before and after? What did you see along the way? If you swim, cycle or visit the gym, record your achievements, your feelings and your energy levels, it will be fascinating reading back when you see how far you’ve come.

 

If you would like help improving your health and fitness you can contact Sam for a free, no obligation, 20-minute discovery call on 07939 235671 or email sam@sambentall.com