If you kept a diary in your younger years, you probably know already how writing down your thoughts helps you synthesize experiences and express difficult emotions. Research has shown that keeping a journal in recovery provides a number of other advantages.
Expressive writing reduces intrusive negative thoughts, which helps to improve working memory.1 This frees up space in your brain for focusing on other important mental activities like engaging in self-care and coping with stress, cravings and other triggers. Journaling in recovery is also good for your mental health. Expressing yourself through writing helps you manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression.2
Keeping a journal in recovery can also help you:
- Prioritize your concerns, fears and problems
- Maintain daily mindfulness of your thoughts, feelings and attitudes to help prevent relapse
- Identify and cope with triggers
- Pinpoint the causes of stress and anxiety so you can work to reduce them
Tips for Keeping a Journal in Recovery
Keeping a journal takes a little discipline. It’s easy to put off writing, and many people struggle with how to begin expressing themselves with the written word. Here are some tips that might help.
1) Write every day.
Even if it’s just writing a few words to describe your emotions, offering a review of the day’s events or jotting down a few goals or ideas in bullet points, putting something in your journal every day will offer the most benefits.
2) Keep it simple.
Remember that your journal doesn’t have to be a heavy narrative of your every thought, feeling and problem. Draw a picture, write a poem or make a list of things you’re grateful for. Write a little “Note to Self,” make a list of songs that make you feel happy, write a letter to someone with the intention of not giving it to them. The journal can be whatever you want it to be at any given time.
3) Keep it convenient.
If you like pen and paper, keep your journal and a pen in a place where you’ll see and use it every day. This might be on your bedside table, the bookshelf in your den, or in your purse or briefcase. Choose an appealing blank journal that feels good in your hands, and use a comfortable pen that glides across the page easily. If you prefer digital, keep your journal on your phone or computer in an easy-to-find file.
4) Try to write when you’re feeling emotional.
Write in your journal any time, but try to make a point of writing something when you’re experiencing strong emotions or you’re under a lot of stress. Writing it down can help you put things into perspective and feel better right away.
5) Look back now and then.
Looking back through your journal in recovery can help you make sense of certain things over time, and it can help you measure your growth in recovery. It offers a chance to re-visit certain events or emotions and look at them from a distance and perhaps in a different light, which may offer valuable insight.