Most of us have a fixed routine we follow before climbing into bed each night; things like prepping meals and laying out our clothes for the next day, relaxing with a cup of tea and a good book, brushing our teeth and taking a cool shower or doing some light stretching.
Whatever your personal nightly ritual may entail, however, there’s one activity in particular that can be added to your routine for improved mental and physical health.
Curious as to what it could be? A growing body of research indicates that the simple act of recording our daily lives through a journal or personal blog can help us make sense of our actions and emotions, manage anxiety, process stressful or traumatic events, and even cope with depression.
One study found that journaling at the end of a stressful day can help relieve stress and anxiety, because it facilitates problem-solving and reduces negative thoughts. Other research has shown that expressive writing can lower symptoms of depression and may even be beneficial to those who are dealing with severe illnesses like cancer or HIV/AIDs.
Journaling can also strengthen immune cells called T-lymphocytes, which explains why taking the time to record your thoughts and actions at the end of each day can boost your physical health too.
The cherry on top is that it can help you sleep better too, because writing gives you a chance to analyze the day’s events and process your thoughts, so you’ll be less likely to lie awake worrying.
All in all, the benefits of this simple pastime are too numerous to ignore, but if keeping a journal isn’t something you’re accustomed to, it will take some time and effort to make it a part of your everyday routine.
Here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. Start slowly
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself right at the beginning. You can start by jotting down just a few lines about your day and slowly working your way up to more. Think about what you did, the interactions you had and how you felt about different situations.
As time goes on, this daily writing ritual will start to feel more natural and you’ll be able to do it without even thinking about it.
2. Be consistent
Research shows that it takes anywhere from 18 to 250 days to form a new habit, so it’s important to be consistent with your journaling from the very beginning. One way to do this is to free up a specific time slot for writing, whether it’s just after you eat dinner or right before you crawl under the covers.
If you make an effort to do it at the same time each day, it will soon begin to feel as much a part of your routine as brushing your teeth.
3. Focus on emotions
Writing about your day can be an effective way to release stress and anxiety, but in order to get the most out of your journaling, it’s important to focus on emotions rather than just facts.
If you’re not sure how to do this, just start by writing down what you did, who you interacted with and how your day at work went. Once you have the facts written down, you can ask yourself how they made you feel.
For instance, did you enjoy the conversation you had with your boss, or did it make you feel anxious? Why do you think it made you feel that way? What would you like to do differently if you had a chance?
4. Use a pen and paper
Using a screen right before bed can disrupt your body’s natural sleep pattern, so you may want to consider using an old-fashioned notebook and pen for your journaling.
Handwriting your thoughts is also more effective than using a laptop or tablet, since the physical act of putting pen to paper stimulates a different area of the brain than typing would.
5. Don’t worry about what you write
Keep in mind that journaling is something you’re doing for yourself. No one will ever get to read it unless you decide you want them to.
Try not to worry too much about using proper grammar or whether your writing will be seen as profound, and instead just write whatever comes to mind. The main goal of this exercise is to record your thoughts and emotions, so don’t over think it.
6. Write for a set amount of time
It’s a good idea to set aside a specific amount of time, especially when you’re first starting out. Giving yourself a time limit makes the exercise seem more doable and helps you build the habit slowly but surely.
For instance, for the first month, your goal could be to write for just five minutes at a time. Once you’ve grown accustomed to this, you can work your way up to 10 or even 15 minutes at a time.