Mindfulness, meditation and fitness are all tried and tested routines for strengthening mental health, reducing or coping better with stress and improving your brain’s ability to concentrate. All three, despite their differences, empower you to better accommodate environmental stimuli and make sense of the world around us. While meditation and mindfulness focus on the way our mind responds to these stimuli, looking after your body’s health will lead to a general improvement in mood1 by stimulating endorphins alongside improving your constitution.
However, a less spoken about method is journaling. Whether it is keeping an all-encompassing diary or just writing down the odd sentence, journaling can be a major player in helping you articulate how you feel about the world around you. Assisting you to better understand your own mind’s way of dealing with things.
Here are some of the key benefits that keeping a journal may bring, beneath this we will go through a few methods that we found helpful!
Increased serotonin and dopamine. Journaling has significant neurological benefits, particularly in providing better channels for the dispersion of the hormones serotonin and dopamine2. While a single journal entry may provide a small amount of these hormones, the regular activity of journaling ensures that this becomes a more frequent occurrence. By utilising the neuroplasticity of neural connections, journaling reinforces the pathways that disperse these chemicals, making them stronger and more likely to occur3.
While the exact reasons behind this are uncertain, and no doubt change on an individual basis, expressive (and personal) writing can be an exciting and thought provoking activity.
Similarly, if we use journaling to help plan, or to articulate what our hopes are, we can make them more concrete and thus more achievable. Even if the end goal seems far away, taking stock of our intentions and objectives will help focus us and keep on top of the tasks at hand.
Many journaling methods focus on including a space for reflecting on what we are grateful for; focussing on the things in life, whether grand or small, that help us align our brain to a positive mindset. Whether it is small releases of dopamine and serotonin gained from better reflecting on what we have achieved in a day or using journaling to create action plans and detailed lists of our achievements, the takeaway is the same - a healthier view on our surroundings and our work.
Sharpen your memory – By detailing events – significant or not – we are calling upon our memory to inform a the process, which draws upon both short and long-term memory, will improve your recall ability by activating the ‘circuits’ in your brain that respond to this4.
Safeguard your mental health – While there are a variety of factors at play for how this may occur, the stellar benefit of journaling involves a willingness to communicate – either with yourself or the reader – a certain understanding. By articulating events, we come to accept them – whereas often in cases of mental health issues a tendency to reject or ‘run from’ the issue may in fact lead to its reoccurrence and increased denial.
Become more aware of your mind – By keeping a journal we are better placed to honour our feelings – even becoming aware of emotions or thoughts that we weren’t aware of in the first place. By letting your mind wander on a page you never know what may come up. Furthermore, studies5 have shown that keeping a journal helps fight symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Helps the brain process past trauma - clinical studies6 have shown that journaling – or expressive writing – helps us to come to terms with issues that our brain has not properly dealt with yet. Both recent and long-past events can be included within this analysis, leading authors of a study to conclude: “writing about earlier traumatic experiences was associated with both short-term increases in physiological arousal and long-term decreases in health problems”7.
May improve immune functions – as seen in the quote above, the benefits of journaling extend past purely mental properties. Keeping a journal will extend its benefits to bodily health. While this may seem obvious, a healthy mind will beget a healthier body – and vice versa, scientific studies have shown that expressive writing can lead to a reduction in cortisol levels and improve injury recovery time8>.
May help wounds heal! – this same study from New Zealand found that participants who engaged in expressive writing exercises after wound treatment had faster healing wounds than the participants that didn’t take part.
- Improve your articulation in written text - for anyone looking to better convey messages through text - whether in a flash presentation or over an email - the key to writing well cannot be achieved except through practice. While not the same thing, your formal texts will see great improvements as you work on your own expressive writing. Similarly, you may see improvements in your vocal articulation and diction, alongside being able to choose the best expressions for presentations. Again, increasing your comfortability in communication, particularly your own mental communication, goes far beyond the journal page you’re writing on.
Knowing why it’s good to journal, how do you start off? First you must ask whether you want to write or not. This doesn’t mean you have to be very serious about it, but the benefits of journaling come through your interaction with the text you create – alongside the emotions and understandings affected by this process. We wanted to run through some of the methods we found useful as we got into this.
A simple structure to follow
Another way in order to keep journaling structured is to simply write down the following:
- 3 things you are grateful for - this can be as normal as having fresh bedding or the ability to enjoy a warm cuppa or a hot meal
- Set your intentions for the day and how you will make it great
- Set your positive affirmation - such as, I am a confident and positive individual that will do good in this world and inspire others to do the same.
The above is taken from a great resource called the 6 Minute Diary and has helped various team members at vybey understand their thoughts and reflect.
In the evening take three minutes to write the following:
- 3 things you enjoyed about your day
- 1 good deed you performed in the day
- 1 way in which you will make tomorrow better
By engaging with what you are grateful for, achievements or just generally enjoy, you can better understand what each day has brought you – and from this you can better plan for the following day.
We've included some handy tips below:
- You don’t need to write every day. Seriously, if you want to start writing, do it at the pace you are most comfortable with. Writing for therapeutic or recreational purposes should not seem like a chore. If you only write a few pages a week, or only list events you find significant, this will still help you jot a path for the text.
- Leave space at the front. If you are writing on paper, leave the first few pages empty. This way when you return to the text at a later point you can add a contents page for the pieces you find interesting.
- It's also important to not put too much weight on the quality of your work. Especially if you’re new to expressive writing, the work you produce might not be of the quality expected by a global newspage. The important thing to remember is that you gain more from the process than what manifests on the page.
- Write for yourself. Journaling is primarily an individual’s activity. Writing content you think others will see could detract from your engagement with the work. By allowing more of your subconscious to surface when determining what is included in the text, you will better understand the paths your mind takes. Returning to the text later, you will recognise priorities or emphasis you held but hadn’t noticed at the time. Also, don’t edit your work. The practice of journaling is focused on writing getting caught up in how neat the text is may detract from your ability to put thoughts down. Similarly, if you are happy filling pages of a text at a time, go for it! But remember that you may want to go back through this at some point, so keep it focused.
One of our vybey meal shake team members, Gil, had this to say about his experience:
"While it may take a bit of getting used to, the benefits obtained from even a little expressive writing really do make it worthwhile. Even if you feel like you don’t have much to say, being able to return to these notes a year down the line could be very eye opening! I always approach journaling without a goal in mind – rather I just jot down whatever seems important. From there sometimes I will write pages, other times I won’t write for a few days. While journaling is not a substitute for keeping fit, eating healthy or motivating yourself further, it can really give you better clarity about yourself. For me, the real work comes in your engagement with the text, being able to return to it and try to place yourself back in the emotional state you were at the time. From here, you can better rationalise your choices and analyse your priorities.
When this is done right, I feel ‘closer’ to my decisions – in that I am more aware of what led me to choose a certain path, or to represent something in a certain way. Over time this has led me to be more conscious in my choices and better able to foresee where an action might reach based on similar ones I have made before."
Don’t rely on journaling alone
Of course, it is also necessary to ensure that you get enough sleep, that you exercise and eat well. While journaling may help address some of the symptoms of anxiety or improve your memory recall ability, the only way to ensure that you perform at a top level is by ensuring that you treat your body right.
The benefits of exercise are obvious - by respecting your body you are better placed to care for your mind, mentally and physically. Many of the benefits from expressive writing or journaling extend to assisting cognitive performance and mood. As brain functions, these rely upon a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Another integral factor in any self-improvement regime is eating well and ensuring you get the optimal amount of nutrition. The brain relies upon a healthy immune system; illnesses, infections and diseases all lead to deficiencies in neural performance9.
If you are looking to ensure you cover all nutritional bases with your meal choice look no further than vybey’s meal shake powder, which contains a full meal worth of complex carbs, essential fats and vitamins and minerals alongside omega 3 and 5, probiotics and nootropics, designed to care for your brain and body.
 Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS, Benefits of Exercise. Benefits of exercise for mental and physical health Information Leaflet. https://www.cntw.nhs.uk/content/uploads/2016/08/Benefits-of-exercise-and-mental-health.pdf
 Wapner, J. (2008) Blogging – It’s good for you, Scientific American. Accessed online at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-healthy-type/
 Burton, L. The Neuroscience of Gratitude, Wharton Health Care. Accessed online at: https://www.whartonhealthcare.org/the_neuroscience_of_gratitude
 Sleister H. M. (2014). Evidence-Based Strategies to Improve Memory and Learning. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 15(2), 336–337. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v15i2.790
 Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338
 Philip M. Ullrich, M.A., Susan K. Lutgendorf, Ph.D., Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 24, Issue 3, August (2002), Pages 244–250, https://doi.org/10.1207/S15324796ABM2403_10
 Bailkie, K. Wilhem, K. (2018). [pg:338]
 Rodriguez, T. (2013), The Scientific American, Writing Can Help Injuries Heal Faster. Accessed online from: from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/writing-can-help-injuries-heal-faster/
 Dantzer, R., O'Connor, J., Freund, G. et al, (2008). From inflammation to sickness and depression: when the immune system subjugates the brain. Nat Rev Neurosci 9, 46–56. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2297