Journaling has been one of the most beneficial practices for my mental health. It’s a powerful and freeing method to clear your mind. Writing about everything in your head—all your deepest and darkest and most private thoughts—gets those thoughts out of your head and onto paper. For this to work, the journal must remain private. You need the complete freedom to know that no one else will ever see it so you can write with complete inhibition. Once the thoughts get out of your head and onto paper, you can detach from the thoughts and view them from a distance.
I experienced this profoundly several years ago while writing, not a journal, but a novel. It was semi-autobiographical, told from the perspective of a character with social anxiety (like me). By recounting my thought patterns, “traumatic” experiences, and worst moments of anxiety, I saw them from a new perspective. Just by writing my fears down, I was able to see how preposterous many of them were. What I thought were “traumatic” experiences at the time weren’t so traumatic after all. I didn’t realize how therapeutic the process of writing about my past would be. That wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to tell a story from the perspective of someone with social anxiety. (That novel still needs a lot of rewriting and editing before being published, but hopefully you can read it someday.)
You don’t need a write a novel to achieve those same benefits; you can simply keep a daily journal. (Which is a lot easier because you don’t need to rewrite or edit.) For years now, I’ve been journaling every day, and it continues to be therapeutic—like a form of meditation. Both practices aim to clear your mind. In fact, journaling may be even more beneficial to my mental health than meditation.
What you do with journal pages doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to publish them, share them with anyone, or even re-read them yourself. You can burn the pages immediately after writing them. All that matters is that you write.
Get the thoughts out of your head. Write about your deepest fears and anxieties or whatever is bothering you at the moment. The first step is actually putting those worries into words. You can’t address your problems until you clearly state them. Writing helps you do that. Then, the second step is seeing those worries from another perspective. Once you express your greatest fears through words, you often realize those fears were irrational, or simply not as scary as you thought.
My journals are about anything and everything, from what I did the day before to what I plan to do the next day, to plans for the far future, to regrets from the past, to story ideas, to business ideas, to philosophy on life, to theories of the universe, history, the future, and everything in between.
If I ever have a problem or experience difficulty or feel anxious about anything, I write about it—with no intentions—but through writing, I tend to work it out. I almost always feel less anxious afterward. That is the power of journaling.