Try It: Journaling As A Healing Practice
Written by Elena Brower
Photography by Photographed By Tiana Lewis
Haven’t started a journaling practice yet? What are you waiting for? Below, Elena Brower, author of Art of Attention and Practice You: A Journal, makes the case for using journaling as a simple daily practice on your road to a more fulfilling self-care routine.
Slowing down long enough to make a habit of soulfully attending to life’s details might seem hard to do in our busy lives, but journaling is a compelling way to come home to ourselves in the deepest way possible. Journaling can be one of the simplest daily practices that help remind us why we’re here—a spacious reflection that allows us to soften, open, and arrive at the very depth of our spirituality, depths that can’t be reached from behind the walls we build. When engaged as a self-care practice, journaling enables us to acknowledge our feelings without interfering with them, and it’s in this process of noticing, of plunging ourselves into this experience no matter how tender and difficult, that we get moved closer to home, healing, greater intuition, and better communication.
Even research suggests that journaling is good for our health. University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes, as well as decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. Writing our hearts, our issues, and our fears helps to move them a bit farther away from us, onto the page, giving us perspective and range with which to manage those seemingly deep-seated emotional states. We’re able to leave a mark for ourselves, almost like we’re leaving a trail, so when we go back to it—in a week, in a month, in a year, in a decade—there will be wisdom there waiting for us. We can travel through time, we can handle that person, we can heal that person, and we can help that person bring forth into right this moment more solace and more confidence.
The other vantage point attained through journaling is one of “witness” consciousness, or a state of self-observation that is palpable in moments of meditation—those moments when we’re just breathing, listening, and noticing. Journaling can also give us access to our own innermost teacher, the wisdom that for years seemed unattainable and inaccessible. We can see in our own words that we can integrate our studies and our understandings to navigate the daily confusions, coincidences, and celebrations of this life in a whole way, a loving way.
The self-care practice of journaling can also be considered an altruistic act. As a parent, self-care is particularly highlighted because if we don’t take care of ourselves, if we don’t do the little things that we do to help ourselves be this steady beacon for our family, we’re of no use. We can become frustrated, volatile, and temperamental. When we do take care of ourselves though, it feels like we’re doing something. It’s not just generous for us, but it’s altruistic for our family. When the moment comes and the hard edge would normally be thrown up into the space, we can actually stay quite soft, yet hold our ground. It’s important momentum to be offering to our loved ones.
Taking care of oneself is actually the most important generosity that we can express not just to ourselves; it’s really very selfless, and it helps everybody who loves us, everybody near us. It radiates out from family to our friends, to the folks we serve in our work, our students, our teachers. When we’re taking care of ourselves, we’re also able to serve well and nourish others. When in the absence of self-care, we can’t. The confluence from us happens where our good work, our best work, is able to come forth when we’re caring about ourselves the most. When we get six to seven hours of sleep, when we workout, meditate, go for a walk, keep an appointment to go to therapy or acupuncture, or whatever it may be that nourishes us, those are all acts of self-care that actually serve.
There is the value of the practices that we do, and whether we’re journaling, reading, meditating, studying, or practicing yoga, the value of all these little practices is that they each allow us to gain and to gather insights into our own minds—our own patterns—behaviors that aren’t helpful. Through journaling and these other practices, we can learn to refine our own voice and vision, and recognize what makes our hearts happy. We can learn to invite the circumstances, insights, and energetic connections that will help us to be of service, and help to heal ourselves and the world around us.
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