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Advice from a coach on journaling

Why do coaches strongly encourage their clients to write?
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Recently I had a really difficult conversation with someone close to me. The interaction left me in an intense, un-resourceful, emotional state of anger, grief and shame. I was feeling such strong emotions that I decided to sit down with my journal and write. As the words began to flow on to the page, my racing mind began to slow, the anger dissipated and I was able to gain a new perspective on my situation. Journaling is a tool I almost always recommend to my clients, and one I engage with regularly myself. Such a simple tool has incredible and immediate benefits, such as, processing thoughts and emotions, reflecting on experiences, effecting change in your life, planning and goal-setting, and gaining a new perspective on things. It seems like such an insignificant activity – so why does the act of writing words on a page have such powerful effects on our mental health and emotional wellbeing? Let’s have a look at the science behind journaling.

When we sit down to journal, we engage the left side of our brain: the area of the brain that is rational and analytical. While the left hemisphere is occupied, the right hemisphere, which is in charge of our creativity and emotions, is given the freedom to wander and play. This allows us to access new ways of seeing things, which may be blocked due to our sneaky unhealthy patterns, habitual thinking and well-worn neural pathways. Accessing our creativity and allowing our right hemisphere to do what it does best (intuit, create and feel), can bring clarity and resourcefulness to our lives.

Journaling has been proven to have significant positive effects on our mental health and emotional wellbeing. Research shows that writing works to enhance our mental health by gently guiding us to confront emotions, which can be inhibited in our daily life. By tackling these unpleasant or tricky emotions, we can process difficult events and form a coherent narrative about our experiences. Humans make sense of the world through storytelling, so by creating a story of our own life, we can process experiences in a way that suits the natural workings of the brain. When you journal, you speak your brain’s language!

Overall, journaling or expressive writing has been found to:

  • boost your mood
  • enhance your sense of wellbeing
  • reduce symptoms of anxiety before an important event (like a presentation)
  • reduce intrusion and avoidance symptoms post-trauma
  • improve your working memory.

So, you’ve read the science and you’re convinced by the proven benefits of journaling … now what? Often clients are unsure ‘how’ to journal. My answer to them is that there are no rules. It doesn’t really matter how frequently you journal, how much you write or what you write about. It all helps in the process of self-awareness and growth. Like most things, the more you journal, the easier it becomes. Journaling may seem a bit strange at first – it’s like having a conversation with yourself using written language.

Often people initially struggle to think what to write about. A blank page can be a daunting thing! One thing I have learnt from my journaling practice is that the mind is a weird and wonderful place, and often you don’t know what it may bring out of hiding until you start exploring. In other words, writing in your journal is the only way to know what you should be writing about. You might be surprised by the insights you can access once you put that pen to paper.

If handwriting isn’t your thing, journaling can be just as effective through typing – some clients even use voice recordings. Whatever your medium of choice, I encourage you to give journaling a try. If you’re someone who likes some structure, prompts can be a helpful place to start a journal entry, such as:

  • What are three things I'm grateful for today?
  • What is most important to me?
  • What am I prioritising in my life?
  • How am I feeling today – turn off autopilot and tune into yourself.

Go forth and journal! You may be surprised by what you discover …

- Coach Anna Meirelles

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