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The Healing Powers of Keeping a Journal, and 3 Ways to Stick With It

20131028 JournalingBy Barbara Stepko for

I got introduced to journaling when I was a kid. At first, I thought the idea was to keep a record of what I had done each day. But eventually—I’m still journaling all these years later—I came to understand that it allows me the time and space to explore what I’m thinking, feeling, and experiencing. In this way, I consider journaling to be a mindfulness practice, and a very powerful one at that. ~ Michael W. Taft

Get an injection, down those pills, and follow your MD’s advice to the letter: These are all pretty familiar forms of medicine. But if you want to enhance those healing powers, you might also consider something as simple as picking up a pen.

Studies suggest that expressive writing (as in, the kind that begins “Dear diary…”) can offer some very real health benefits—among them, helping wounds heal faster, reducing stress and fatigue in cancer patients, and easing the symptoms of conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome.

“Journal therapy is all about using personal material as a way of documenting an experience, and learning more about yourself in the process,” says Kathleen Adams, LPC, a Colorado-based psychotherapist and author of Journal to the Self ($12, “It lets us say what’s on our minds and helps us get—and stay—healthy through listening to our inner desires and needs.”

Never been the journaling type? To get started, follow these tips.

Choose your moments

“Don’t plan to write every day,” Adams cautions. “When there’s that expectation, the first day that’s missed, all of the air is let out of the balloon. It’s like a New Year’s resolution in that way. For some, once a week is enough; for others, five times a week is just right.” There are no rules, but it’s helpful to have a strategy when first getting started to develop consistency—for example, check in with yourself three times a week. The length of time isn’t as significant as what Adams calls the doingness, or the pattern. Set timer for 10 minutes; you can go beyond that or put down your pen. Develop a rhythm, so it can be done, say, three times a week for three or four weeks. Once it becomes a habituated response to stress or management, then the frequency can back off.

Ease into it

“Before picking up a pen, try an entrance meditation to transition into a state of mindfulness,” Adams says. Your ritual might be savoring a cup of tea, listening to classical music, trying a few yoga poses, or just petting your cat on your lap, according to Adams. It can even be as brief as closing your eyes and taking three deep breaths.

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