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Write it Down.

Usefulness of Journaling

The habit of journaling is becoming more and more utilized in everyday society. Whether you have written in a journal or not, you are likely familiar with a diary (or journal) and its purpose: getting thoughts out of the mind and onto paper. Most of the time, these thoughts are kept private and not shared with the outside world. Still, self-reflecting in this way can have therapeutic benefits. Research has demonstrated that journaling is an effective tool for managing mental health and getting in touch with our emotions. Specifically, journaling can assist in:

  • Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns

  • Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them

  • Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors

As a result, the process of journaling can help manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression.

(University of Rochester Medical Center - Health Encyclopedia)

Why is journaling effective?

When we write what’s on our minds onto paper instead of keeping it inside, it helps process emotions by creating awareness of them rather than avoiding them. According to a post from the official Olympics website, our brains create “open loops” that “begin when we push intrusive thoughts aside and the emotions they’re connected to. When we do that, the loops of the emotions are kept open in the brain. As you get into a tug-of-war, where these thoughts intrusions and emotional intrusions pop in and out, you fail to complete the necessary emotional processing.” (Olympics) As a result, journaling can help close these loops and ultimately help process what is occupying our minds. This is why journaling can be highly beneficial for those who might be going through particularly traumatic experiences or dealing with other mental health concerns. Journaling can help a person emotionally process whatever they may be going through.

Journaling in Athletics

The effectiveness of journaling isn’t limited to a therapeutic space. Journaling is becoming more common in sports for athletes looking to stay level-headed. In addition to the training sessions and nutrition logs that athletes usually keep track of in a journal, dedicating a space to add thoughts and feelings can help athletes manage their emotions and mental health. In addition, journaling can be beneficial for processing stressful events related to athletics, such as dealing with an injury, performance-related concerns, or other areas that might affect you mentally. It can also be a reflective tool before and after a performance. (find sources).

Professional Athletes Who Journal

Several professional athletes like former Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer Michael Phelps, retired American tennis great Serna Williams, and American World Cup Alpine Skier Mikaela Shiffrin have utilized/are utilizing journaling in their everyday lives. These specific athletes take different journaling approaches, each equally effective in generating the desired result. Serena, for instance, uses a more methodological approach to journaling that helps her track her progress on the court. Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena’s longtime coach, discussed Serena’s uncanny approach to journaling in an article from Sports Illustrated:

"I've never seen a player who has a notebook where he or she would write during practice what she needs to think about, when she serves, what she needs to focus on," he says. "She doesn't want chance to be part of the result. This is a very professional approach that I've not seen many times. Players don't write." (Sports Illustrated 2014).

While Serena’s journaling was strictly related to athlete performance, other athletes have utilized journaling for more holistic reasons. Michael Phelps, for example, discussed in an interview with Sports Illustrated how his journal entries were able to help him through a particularly dark time:

“No. Just dark, just scary. For me, when I get in dark spots, I just feel alone. I know when people have depression that is normal. There are times where I will dive into pretty deep depression, but I think I’ve found different tools to help me when I’m in that state. I journal a lot. Those journal entries are a little weird to look at. But I’m glad I do them on those bad days, because I want to see what my mind was like. I want to see what I’m going through.” (Sports Illustrated, 2022).

How do I “journal”?

With that being said, you might be reading the above examples and thinking, “Ok, that sounds great, but how do I actually "journal "?” Great question. There isn’t any rigorous procedure that needs to be followed to reap the benefits of journaling. It can be as simple as setting a timer for 20 minutes (or no timer at all) and writing whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about any punctual or grammatical mistakes, either. These entries are you and you only! Once you complete the 20 minutes or feel like you have written enough, you can either keep the page in the journal or rip it out and throw it in the trash. Once it’s on the page, it’s out of your mind. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to let the entries come to you and not force any potential insights you may seek. Rick Rubin, a mastermind behind creativity, emphasizes this sentiment. Emotionally regulated? Then, let the entries come to you. Write whatever you are feeling that day.

This can allow you to begin letting go of these thoughts and feelings; it may naturally produce a different perspective and perhaps see them in a healthier and more balanced way. Try this out for a couple days and see if you notice a difference.

If you’re looking for specific prompts to help you get started on your journaling journey, you can access the link below:

Final Words

With the pervasiveness of technology in our everyday lives, it can be challenging for us to take a moment and unplug. And when we finally do, we’re either going to sleep or too exhausted to do much of anything. Still, carving out just a little time for self-reflection can have tremendous benefits in a short period. As stated earlier, journaling can help assess problems and fears arising on or off the court, monitor symptoms and “triggers” over time, help identify negative behavior and thought patterns, and create a space for healthy self-talk and encouragement. All in all, this can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression and reduce stress.

Also, it should be noted that journaling is not the only tool for self-reflection either. Practicing mindfulness is another way to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions. What’s great about this particular exercise is that it can be practiced anywhere, anytime. You could now try to notice any thoughts and feelings arising in the present moment. You can read an earlier blog here for more information about mindfulness and how to cultivate it in everyday life.


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