Journaling and Your Brain
During these challenging times, it is important to have ways of calming our minds. You may already be meditating, going for a run, a session at the gym, walking, yoga, reading, listening to music, long chats with good friends-my favourite- and so on.
I would like you to consider journaling as an addition to any of the above. There is something about the action of writing on a blank page that is soothing and very reflective when you have the courage to write without limits.
Presidents, Prime Ministers, famous figures past and present have all journaled.
‘I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train’.Oscar Wilde-playwright
Brain scans show that many areas of the brain work in tandem during the act of writing, creating strong neural connections. Journaling activates introspection, it is a means of:
· examining our beliefs and motivations
· processing our stress and emotions
· organising our thoughts
· gaining perspective
· a way to plan and reflect on goals
· boost creativity
· bring unconscious thoughts to light to be worked on
Numerous research has shown the brain benefits from handwriting. We learn better and faster by writing things down rather than typing.
We access the left brain when we write, which is analytical and rational. Whilst your left brain is busy, your right brain is free to create, feel, and tune into intuition. When you write with an open mind and no limits, you remove mental blocks and use all of your brain to better understand yourself, others, and the world around you.
The following are some of the benefits that you can begin to experience when you start to journal throughout your day.
Writing about anger, sadness, and other painful emotions helps to release the intensity of these feelings. You are rewiring your brain for calmness during painful moments. When we put our feelings into words, we reduce the response in the amygdala, the ‘fight/flight’ region of the brain, and activate our prefrontal region, our logical part of the brain. This region will look at the memories associated with these emotions and decide which are relevant for you to recall. Your brain will help you process using emotional wisdom, intuition, and logical thinking on how to behave and respond to these emotions.
Studies have shown that expressive writing frees up cognitive resources that worrying takes up. Tasks take longer and are possibly not executed to a high standard due to using up finite energy to suppress your worries. Remember that your brain utilises 20-30% of the body’s energy, most of which your pre-frontal cortex needs for executive function. Taking a few minutes to write down your thoughts and emotions will quickly get you in touch with your internal world, giving you perspective and clarity.
Learning & Memory
Journaling is an effective way to study and acquire new knowledge. The reason is that writing by hand stimulates a part of the brain called RAS, or the Reticular Activating System. The RAS prioritises what requires your immediate focus and what needs to be filtered out. Writing activates your RAS to process knowledge into your memory.
If you want to stimulate your child’s brain, ask them to write down the words they are learning rather than just reading them!
Evidence also shows that we retain a lot more information into our brain when we handwrite notes rather than on our phones or laptops, our motor cortex is stimulated at a deeper level. What is also evident in both adults and children is that taking notes does enhance memory.
Helps you sleep
A good night’s sleep has numerous benefits for your brain. Research from Baylor University’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition laboratory shows the benefit of writing down that to-do list at bedtime. Electrical brain activity was monitored overnight of a group of University students. One half wrote down what they needed to remember to do the next day and the other half wrote down tasks that they had completed in recent days.
Those who wrote out a to-do list fell asleep faster than those who had journaled about completed tasks.
In other words, get your lists out of your head and on to paper and go to sleep.
Most people tend to journal before they sleep.
‘The habit of writing for my eyes is good practice. It loosens the ligaments’.
A few more nuggets!
Regular journaling is a means to know yourself better. It will help you to understand what makes you feel happy and confident. You will also see patterns/triggers of stress including the toxic people and situations that are the cause. Your emotional well-being is so important, and these insights are invaluable.
Reading your journal will give you a progress report of successes and challenges faced and motivate you to continue pushing forward. The neural changes and the feel-good hormones associated with journaling will make it a habit that you look forward to.
There is no right or wrong way to begin journaling.
Write when it feels right for you, you could start with a daily gratitude note- jot down 5-10 things that you are grateful for in your life. Practicing gratitude increases density in your pre-frontal cortex and releases dopamine and serotonin which make you feel good.
Progress on to writing more, you will know what you wish to focus on, write instinctively, without thinking too much about the ‘should’ of your writing.
There are no rules whether you decide to write one sentence every day or have a more structured approach, bullet points, or copious notes, whether you do it daily or intermittently.
The challenge is to start!
Make some time in your diary, add it to your calendar.
Having a dedicated time and place along with a gorgeous journal will help to turn journaling into a beautiful and powerful habit of introspection.
‘Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think’.
Published by Naiyer Sultana Qureshi