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Journaling is exactly what it sounds like. Writing in a journal, or even a diary, is considered journaling. However, not many people focus on all the different types of journaling out there: from letter writing to music to listing what you're grateful for, you can find the best fit for you and one that helps you accomplish your desired goals. The different types of journaling, while all useful in their own right, have differing set outcomes. The main thing about journaling is that it is quite beneficial for one’s mental health. Journaling has been proven to increase cognitive function, enhance one's self-awareness, provide a mood boost, improve memory, and reduce symptoms of depression. (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005). If you struggle with your mental health, you’re overwhelmed, or just simply need an outlet, journaling is a great way to put your thoughts on the page and let them all out.
While journaling can be helpful, there are many options to choose from. If you’re having trouble finding out which type of journaling is better for you, the best way is to find information about each of them and to not be afraid to step out and try out new methods. You should have an open mind and be prepared to try multiple types of journaling until you find the best fit. Read on to learn more about the different types of journaling and find out what will work for you based on what you're trying to accomplish.
Stream of Consciousness Journaling
Stream of consciousness journaling is a great place to start for people who are new to journaling because it has no set rules. The only thing the writer needs to do is start writing. The point of stream of consciousness journaling is to completely ignore any grammar, style, and format concerns, and write just for the sake of writing. The writer also has nothing they need to specifically write about. They can write anything that pops into their head, and feels right. You could write until you feel a natural stopping point, or set a timer for yourself. It’s important to note that the writer should not be concerned with their writing being unintelligible, there is no need to judge yourself, as long as you're writing freely, you’re doing this style of journaling correctly.
Stream of consciousness journaling is especially helpful for people who tend to overthink, have racing thoughts, or are overwhelmed. Some benefits of this style of journaling include: providing a source of release from tension, helping to sort through thoughts and emotions so the writer can better articulate and come to terms with their feelings, and leaving the writer to feel more centered and calm. The reasoning behind the latter benefit is that the writer is being open and honest with themselves. It takes an enormous effort to continually bury uncomfortable or unwanted feelings, but by expressing these feelings through journaling the result is the weight lifted off of the writer’s shoulders.
This is as simple as writing down everything you’re grateful for. The most basic way to start this type of journaling is to sit down and start off listing five things that you’re grateful for. These things don’t have to be big events in your life, although they can be if you want. But you can write down how good the coffee tasted in the morning, and that’s just a small thing you were grateful for that day. However, you can go the big event route and say that you finally got the job position you’ve been wanting. Either way you want to go is fine. The most important thing about this practice is to remember a good moment in your life and feel those good emotions once again, grateful that you were able to experience them.
Mentor journaling consists of writing about people that have been an inspiration to you. You can choose a personal route, writing about people you personally know, or an impersonal route, writing about people you don’t know but look up to. There are a couple of different approaches you can take in regards to the content of your writing. Your writing can focus on your inspirations, admirable qualities, actions, achievements, or philanthropy. The goal of mentor journaling is to think about how you can apply whatever you find admirable about your mentor into your own life. You want to think about how your mentor accomplished what they did, and how you can follow a similar path. This style of journaling works best for people who feel dissatisfied in their lives, or want inspiration for better living. Mentor journaling can help you to visualize your future and create achievable goals for yourself.
Unsent Letter Journaling
Unsent letter journaling is a style of journaling where the writer composes a letter knowing it will be for their eyes only. This letter can be written for any reason to any person whether you know them personally or not. Some examples of content you may include is: a love letter, a letter to someone who has recently passed, a letter to someone who made you angry, a letter to prepare for a future conversation, a letter of gratitude, a letter of forgiveness, or a letter to apologize.
Since the letter is for your eyes only, there’s no tangible consequence for your words, they are just words on a page. Utilizing this perspective may help you to fearlessly express necessary truths. Composing an unsent letter can provide the writer with clarity around a situation, closure, or release of feelings. Once you write your letter, you may realize that the importance of your thoughts deserve to be spoken directly to the receiver. If not, the experience of composing a letter that is not meant to be sent is cathartic on its own.
Similar to gratitude journaling, what is going well journaling is dedicated to focusing on the positive elements of your life. The main difference between the two styles is that gratitude journaling focuses on past experiences, while what is going well journaling focuses on your current daily life. In what is going well journaling, unsurprisingly, the writer would write about what has gone well throughout their day. As humans naturally tend to focus on what is going wrong in their day, this style of journaling can help an individual see the positive parts of their life, and realize how much they have to be thankful for. This version of journaling has no format requirements and can be done however the author would like to, whether that is writing paragraphs or bullet points. The overall benefits of what is going well journaling is leading people to live a more appreciative life, helping people to leave unimportant annoyances in their past, and providing people with a written record for the future of the positives in their life.
Contrary to popular belief, visual journaling does not require any artistic ability or talent. Visual journaling involves exploring different concepts, ideas, and your own thoughts in a visual way. Rather than drawing or using other visuals to demonstrate a piece of art, this type of journaling is meant to make you gain a deeper understanding of your own thoughts, and even feelings. One of the main benefits of visual journaling is that it allows you to understand yourself. People who practice this type of journaling regularly express that they’re able to find out what obstacles are in their way fairly quickly. Because this practice is so freeing, it can help you understand your deeper thoughts and center yourself.
The best way to do this type of journaling is to get a piece of paper or a journal, and either start drawing, doodling, painting, or anything that is visual. You might even argue that making collages with different images you’ve collected or scrapbooking can be visual journaling. As long as you put visual ideas onto the page freely, then you’re going for a visual journaling approach.
Exploration is at the heart of this type of journaling. In order to practice intuition journaling, you must detach yourself and activate your creative mind. You need to let your intuitive inner self take control and transcribe everything that this buried voice says. When you tap into that inner voice, you will be able to learn and explore your thoughts and feelings. With regular practice, you can get to know yourself on a deeper level.
As with visual journaling, you do not need to be a music expert to practice musical journaling. The simple way to go around this practice is to sit down and journal through sound. If you have any instruments lying around, this may be easier for you. However, you don’t necessarily need instruments to make music. You can turn basically anything into drums, you can make rhythms with your hands on any surface and create sounds with everything around you. When you sit down to do this type of journaling, record yourself so you can go back later and review it. Think of it as reading a diary entry, but you’ll be listening to the way you created those sounds and understanding how you were feeling in the moment.
Trauma Narrative Journaling
It is important to note that this type of journaling can evoke painful feelings and memories for a person. Do not try trauma narrative journaling if you are not adequately prepared to deal with what may come to the surface for you. If you’re interested in trauma narrative journaling but do not want to do so without support, talk to a therapist about programs or people who offer this as a service. It’s best done in a controlled setting with a trained professional acting as your guide.
A trauma narrative is a style of journaling used to help victims of trauma find closure in their experience. The word trauma can allude to many scenarios and is not explicitly defined as life-altering situations. Whatever you think is a trauma for you, is trauma, no matter how trivial it may seem to you in comparison with other’s experiences. Trauma narratives will take more than one sitting to complete. They are designed in three parts and should have significant time between the different drafts.
The first part of a trauma narrative is to strictly write down the facts of your situation, without any personal thoughts or feelings. Think about the who, what, where, when, and why, but nothing further than that. After some necessary time away from your first draft, the second part is to begin incorporating your thoughts and feelings. You don’t need to incorporate every detail, but you should be able to see a length difference between your first and second draft. The third draft, which is often the most difficult to complete, is dedicated to writing out the ugly, uncomfortable details of your situation. This draft is where you dive into the worst parts of your experience. Add as much detail as possible, and keep in mind that everything should be on the page at this point, so don’t hold yourself back. Once the third draft is complete, then your narrative should be all-encompassing and released from your body.
Trauma narratives provide closure, relief, and inner peace for victims. Having to repeatedly tell the origin story of trauma causes the memories to be more manageable and helps diminish triggers associated with this event. Trauma narratives help to make sense of trauma by making our memory of the event organized in a narrative that’s easily followed.
Journaling has many avenues to choose from. They all have something good to offer to the table, but there’s usually one or more that are more favorable to you. Take time to get to know which ones work best for you and stick to them. With regular practice, you can reap mental health benefits and experience great catharsis.
Baikie, Karen & Wilhelm, Kay. (2005). Emotional and physical benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 11. 338-346. 10.1192/apt.11.5.338.