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Self-Improvement Column: The benefits of journaling

Jeff Hartwig is a licensed clinical therapist and founder of 1 Focus Counseling in Canyon Lake. Photo provided by Jeff Hartwig.

By Jeff Hartwig MA, PPS, LPCC  
Self-Improvement Columnist, Canyon Lake Insider 

As I build rapport in sessions with my clients, their struggles and reasons for entering therapy come to light. People enter clinical counseling for various challenges such as work stress, career changes, high school/college academic pressure, trauma, caring for ill relatives, grief, relationship issues, and more. As we work together to process and go over the many difficulties their life story takes, emotions will flood and some tensions will be released.

Is this easy? For some, it is a matter-of-fact mindset as the situation takes time, effort, and, at times, money. There is, however, a limit to how much the mind can contain before we become overwhelmed with racing thoughts and anxiety.

I often challenge clients with “our mind can only think of one thing at a time.” To further prove my point, consider the fact that you can’t speak French and English at once. That said, once we understand how our brain works, we can use this knowledge to unpack our overwhelming thoughts.

Almost across the board, a tool that I find most beneficial is journaling. The process of journaling thoughts that come with individual situations has proven to be an effective way to release emotional strain. Our mind is amazing and has the capability to contemplate, create, strategize, and solve problems.

Here are five benefits of journaling:

  • Alleviates mental pressures
  • Allows emotional release
  • Prevents overthinking
  • Aides in processing overwhelming thoughts
  • Provides opportunities to review those same subjective thoughts which then become objective the next day to make better judgment calls

As we approach a new school year, let’s use the example of the academic pressures of high school students who are preparing for college. Working with high school and college students also has allowed me to share the positives of journaling.

Many high school students are anxious about acceptance to the colleges of their choice. Most hedge their bets and apply for more than one, obviously raising the possibility of acceptance by applying for ten or even more. As we discuss this in session, it is easy to discover that this process is overwhelming and anxiety has now become a part of the student’s daily experience.

As the student discovers they can only speak about one stressful subject at a time, we can then introduce the effectiveness of journaling those thoughts which are foremost on their mind. As they begin to journal, anxiety is curbed and insight is developed.

Because journaling is a tool and not in and of itself clinical in nature, I highly recommend journaling for many of life’s positives and negatives for most people. As thoughts are recorded on paper, one is initially subjective. After returning to and reviewing those same writings the next day, it becomes objective. This process allows one to make judgment calls such as “Okay, that was a tough day but today is better” etc. I highly recommend journaling as a simple coping skill to settle thoughts, prevent overthinking and learn from experiences.

Jeff Hartwig is a licensed clinical therapist and founder of 1 Focus Counseling in Canyon Lake. The information in this article is for informational purposes and not clinical advice, nor should it be taken or applied as a replacement for clinical advice. If you or someone you know is in crisis or in danger of harming self or others, call 911.

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