Updated: Oct 30, 2021
Written by Tan Khai Teng & Xavier Lim
Journalling is the representation of autobiographical accounts and/or sentimental emotions on a written medium - holds a myriad of therapeutic benefits to everyone across different stages in life.
Since aeons ago, journaling has been employed as a medium of emotional expression and is often utilised as a complementary tool in counseling and psychotherapy. To broaden the positive benefits of journaling to the general population, healthcare practitioners have been advocating for engagement in journaling as a multi-dimensional tool (e.g., gratitude journaling, reflective journaling). A web-based journal can also be a powerful tool to better articulate thoughts and serves as a form of cathartic release. There are journaling platforms online which allow individuals to share their experiences and thoughts, which were found to be a social learning tool, to be exposed to different perspectives that open their minds for introspection. In this blog post, we cover the utility of journaling across three unique populations: youths, working adults (including expectant mothers), and older adults.
As Daniel Kahneman puts it in ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, “We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”. The context of this message lies in the nature of human bias. As youths, integrating into the social world away from our comfort zones can be daunting; youths face endless challenges with academics, friends, and independence as they struggle to formulate their unique identities. In such emotionally-charged events, our behavioural responses can be clouded by visceral factors (e.g., emotions), which may lead us to respond in irrational ways.
In light of the pervasiveness of such instances, various researchers explored using journaling as a modality to aid youths in reframing retrospective events. Journaling can be used as an effective tool reduce negative internalised feelings and anxiety. Since journaling is a retrospective activity, journaling allows us to reflect in a neutral and less emotionally charged environment, and disengage from intense emotions associated with unpredictable situations.
With COVID-19 is affecting youths’ mental health, journaling can provide avenues for reflection about a person’s experiences and feelings. It allows for the expression of self which is emotionally and mentally healthy. Having a teacher who can guide their students through journaling, where the teacher supports the students’ ideas, personal stories can be very encouraging for students during these stressful times. Students’ narrative journal entries have shown that journaling may have brought about some positive outcomes in terms of reduction of stress, improvement in performance in school, and learning.
Retrospecting recounts of one’s professional development via journaling can aid working adults in not only exploring their professionalism but also reaching insights to inform their work attitudes and practice. Researchers continually emphasised the role of active journaling in enhancing the awareness and understanding of one’s own mental processes. Leveraging on journaling as an expressive medium, working adults can reflect on their professional identity, the decisions they make in the workplace, and the feelings associated with those decision-making processes. Having the commitment to regularly record thoughts and feelings about work can open up reflections and review about one’s progress. The practice of active journaling may hence accentuate favorable conditions for professional development, allowing working adults to gain insights into the thoughts, beliefs, values, identities, and biases that would otherwise be unconscious in spontaneous situations in the workplace.
There has been a growing recognition of the serious nature of mental health problems amongst mothers during childbirth. Journaling has been suggested as therapeutic means to check in on their emotions, identify triggers towards poor health, track their good and bad days and put their experiences into perspective.
For mothers who are separated from their hospitalised newborns, they consider this most challenging to be away from their child. It found that journaling gave the opportunity for self-reflection and healing during this difficult period. Journalling was also found to facilitate the expression of caring and stress release through the opportunity to write about their feelings and experiences.
Journalling has potential benefits on optimal aging. Optimal aging refers to the maintenance of biological, social, psychological, and spiritual functioning in spite of any disabilities and conditions. For healthy older adults, there are benefits of self-reflection and penning one’s thoughts on spiritual growth and creativity. Research has also demonstrated the effectiveness of combining journaling and therapy on older adults living with depressive symptoms. Maintaining timely journals of their thought patterns and day-to-day happenings can result in significant improvements in older adults’ mental well-being and self-esteem. Journaling also encourages reminiscence - the process of recollecting past events. Active engagement in reminiscence can not only foster greater life satisfaction, reduce anxiety symptoms, and boost one’s physiological functioning, but can also enhance quality of life and well-being, altogether contributing to optimal aging in older adults.
Be Aware!: Journaling and Hindsight Bias
As much as we believe we engage in rational thinking, we humans are susceptible to hindsight bias which refers to the exaggeration of credibility we put in ourselves for predicting the circumstances that lead up to events of the past - hindsight bias; as they say, “Hindsight is 20/20”. Even though practitioners encourage genuinity in the writing process, we encourage all writers to be aware of succumbing to hindsight bias, as it can precipitate thinking that assumes things are worse than they actually are or will have a far worse outcome than is realistic.
Instead, researchers recommend elaborating on events from multiple perspectives - particularly those that contradict your own - to reduce hindsight bias and promote productive outcomes. For instance, when writing about one’s experiences in a heated argument with a friend, instead of emphasising the precipitating factors brought about by oneself, one can further explore the situation from a situational perspective - how did the circumstances originally brought about this argument, and what can I do to reduce this misunderstanding?
Research has demonstrated diverse therapeutic benefits for journaling, and journaling can be leveraged as a multi-dimensional and flexible medium for one to engage in self-expression - an adaptive coping mechanism. Journaling allows for expression of one’s emotion and experiences, which can be a cathartic experience for them. As a regulated and timely practice, journaling has positive benefits for individuals in different contexts and major life stages, encouraging the promotion of one’s personal, professional, familial, or spiritual development.
If you're looking to do e-journalling, check out our recommended apps:
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