Your Guide to Journaling: How to Befriend Your Emotions Through This Daily Ritual

As human beings, it is normal for us to feel a variety of emotions. Feelings of anger, sadness or disappointment are natural for us – but sometimes, we simply don’t know how to process them. That’s why it is crucial to learn how to make sense of your emotions and release them in a healthy way. Clinical psychologists around the globe consider journaling a simple and effective way to process your thoughts. But describing your emotions and putting them into words can be a bit confusing at the start. You may ask yourself – how do I do that right? In this article, we will help you figure out how to start your journaling practice and how this simple daily ritual can help you befriend your emotions.

Why is journaling effective?

When we face crises, our emotional well-being requires immediate relief. Sometimes, amidst interpersonal conflicts, we may get overwhelmed with emotions we can’t always make sense of or even identify. Some experiences we live through can also lead to anxiety and problems with sleep. For that matter, journaling can help you identify and navigate those emotional responses and eventually reach mindfulness – an ability to be fully present in the moment without distractions.

An experimental study by UCLA psychologists revealed that journaling could lower your brain’s reactions to traumatic experiences or emotional triggers, making them less intense. During the trial, the researchers found that the process of labeling the emotions activated the participants’ right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex – a region in our brain responsible for processing emotions and managing conflicts. Meanwhile, the process of identifying and labeling emotions also lowered the activity in the amygdala – the brain region responsible for the sensory response to danger, putting your body into a survival mode and releasing stress hormones.

That is why you may notice that you feel better when you talk through your emotions with your friends or a therapist because the act of putting your feelings into words lowers the stress reaction in your brain. While speaking to someone about your day may help you lower anxiety, psychologists recommend practicing consistent journaling as an effective method to improve your emotional wellbeing in the long run.


How do I start journaling?


Do it your way

The good news is that there is no “correct” way to journal. Remember that it is not a class assignment you should show your teacher. Nor is it a weekly report that you should send to your boss. There are no writing standards and no deadlines. Don’t worry about the coherency of your writing or the complexity of your vocabulary. Just try to be honest and open about your experiences, as you are the only one who will read it.

Your journal entry may look like an impulsive recollection of quite random and momentary thoughts you are having at the moment. Or, on the other hand, it may resemble an organized list where you strive to categorize and identify what’s going on in your head. Listen to yourself, start writing and see where it takes you!


Make it a ritual

Psychologists suggest that one of the main factors that make journaling practice especially effective is consistency. You can start building a habit of journaling by either making it a morning or an evening ritual. Just turn on relaxing music, sit down comfortably and go with the flow. Making it a habit will help you organize your thoughts and eventually reach relief.

Identify what you feel

When you feel overwhelmed with feelings you can’t make sense of, putting your emotions into words will help you lower your stress reaction and eventually reach clarity. Try following these steps to guide yourself through your feelings:

- Label the emotion you are feeling

- Identify what caused this emotion – be elaborate and honest about what happened

- How did you behave as a result of this emotion?

- What are you going to do about it? Is this a problem that needs to be solved or is this out of your control?


Use prompts to help you navigate where to start

 Don’t know where to start? Then try using various journaling prompts that will give you a specific theme or topic to reflect on. Following a prompt will help you focus on something positive in your life, apart from the negative emotions that weigh down on you. For example, you can list things that you are grateful for or write a mini love letter to yourself every day. You can also list challenges that you successfully overcome. Such prompts may help you to strengthen your relationship with your own self and promote feelings of gratitude for the simple joys in your life. Here are some of them to give you ideas:


- What was the last time you surprised yourself? Elaborate.

- What are the three things you feel grateful for today?

- What are the three qualities that you would never change in yourself?

- What is your favorite daily ritual and why?

- What is your little win today?

It’s fine to feel a bit stuck in the beginning. But as you start expressing your thoughts through writing, you will be able to explore your own self a little bit more and make a safe space for yourself to confront and face your feelings. 

If you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with emotions, please seek professional help immediately.

Author of the publication

Polina Kuznetsova
Polina Kuznetsova
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