What’s Your Best Advice for Starting a Journal?

(Image credit: Justice Darragh)

Confession: The idea of journal-writing makes me cringe. I was never the teenager who kept a diary stashed in her bedside table, filling it nightly with hopes and dreams or doodling hearts around my crush’s name. In fact, in high school, when I had to keep a journal for English class, it was always the homework assignment I left for last. Give me calculus equations to solve or term papers to pen, but writing down my feelings? No thanks.

Here’s the thing, though — journaling is actually good for you, and not just in the Chicken Soup for the Soul way. Research shows that expressive writing can lower stress, improve sleep, and increase immune response. So, this year, I’m giving journaling a second chance.

Given my strong feelings on the matter, it’s not going to be easy. But this year, another resolution of mine is to put my health first. And I’ve had a number of doctors, health coaches, and therapists suggest keeping a journal, for the mental and physical benefits and as a way of keeping a record of my health.

We know that expressive writing can help with trauma, depression, anxiety, and overall make us the zen human beings we strive to be. But there is evidence to link journaling with physical health as well. Researchers in New Zealand found that patients who wrote in a journal healed faster than those who didn’t. Other studies have connected expressive writing with lower levels of cortisol, the steroid hormone associated with stress, and higher counts of helpful immune cells. And if you write down what you’re grateful for at night, chances are you’ll sleep longer and better.

On a more practical note, a journal is also a record and a reference point. For me, this is important because I have been struggling with some health issues. The idea is that keeping track of how I feel as well as the nitty-gritty details of what I eat and drink — whether or not I exercise, how much sleep I get, and so on — will help me figure out what’s going on with my body. That’s the theory at least, and I’m willing to give it a go.

Here are a few strategies I’m hoping will help keep me on the journaling bandwagon.

Invest in a New Journal

As a writer and editor, I have a lot of notebooks. Most of them are half-filled, bent, and coffee-stained. In other words, they do not really shout, “Pick me up and write in me!” So, I bought myself a brand-new notebook, one that’s pretty and just for journaling (and definitely not for scribbling down notes from my call with Con Edison about my heating bill). And if I run out of pages, I’ve got my eye on this one from Rifle Paper Co.

Set Aside Time for Journaling

This one is tricky. With a new job, a newish relationship, and an extremely cute but needy dog, I would like to spend whatever minutes I’m not working or nurturing my people and pet bonds splayed out on the sofa with a glass of wine and the latest Netflix drama. I’m thinking evenings are best, as that’s the time when the events of the day are still relatively clear in my mind, but it might end up being mornings. We’ll see.

Write Something Every Day

There’s some disagreement on the subject of the frequency of journaling. Some people journal every day, others a few times a week, and still others whenever they feel like it. For me, though, the purpose is twofold: To jot down my thoughts and to keep track of what I’m eating and how I’m feeling. So, I really need to do this every day — even if it’s just to scribble, Bridget Jones-style, “Coffee units, 8; alcohol units, 5; dairy, gluten, and sugar, definitely yes; calories, a gazillion.”

So, that’s the plan. Any other advice to keep me going? Do you keep a journal?