I Tried Journaling First Thing in the Morning Every Day for a Month, and I’m Floored by How Cathartic This Ritual Can Be

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Following a frustrating event that kept me tossing and turning well into the night, I needed to get things off my mind… fast. I opened the Notes app on my phone and voraciously transcribed my inner turmoil. Once I spilled it all out, I tucked my phone away and fell asleep within minutes. The next morning, I was surprised to find that I didn’t revert to ruminating straight away. Instead, I felt that I sufficiently released my grip on this particular incident, which was as freeing as it was foreign to me as a chronic overthinker and grudge-holder. Hmm, I thought to myself. I guess there really is something to writing out my internal monologues.

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Inspired, I headed straight to a stationery store and purchased a daily journal, the cover of which reads: “Life is not perfect but it has perfect moments.” Concise, factual, and balanced, this sentiment was right up my alley and put some pep in my newfound journaling step. From there, I committed to journaling each and every morning for a month straight.

The benefits of journaling in the morning

I've come to discover for myself that there are countless benefits attributed to journaling. “When you journal, you foster self-reflection, which allows you to honor various feelings and thoughts,” explains Elizabeth Winkler, LMFT, a therapist and certified meditation teacher in Beverly Hills. As I learned from my initial late-night entry, I was able to move forward once I got my hang-ups off my chest, got real about how I was feeling, and put things into context. This process made it all too clear that marinating in the muck would never work to my advantage. Armed with this realization and making a semblance of peace with the situation, I was able to attain a sense of closure.

But journaling can help you well beyond a given circumstance. By putting pen to paper, you can acknowledge, accept, and release energy that’s weighing you down and hindering your ability to thrive across different aspects of life. Winkler says this can lead to a cascade of powerful outcomes for your mental health, relationships, and overall sense of well-being. “The benefits of journaling include deepened presence, inner peace and self-awareness, reduction in anxiety and depression, a wider capacity to be flexible with yourself and others, and a deeper purpose in your daily life,” she continues… all of which I’d like to welcome with open arms.

Vedic meditation teacher Susan Chen explains that journaling first thing in the morning can amplify these benefits by setting the rest of your day up for success. “So often when we wake up, our minds become quickly inundated with the to-dos and concerns of the day,” she shares. “Amidst this mental flurry, it's easy to be swept away by these demands and neglect our own well-being.” It goes without saying that scanning your emails and social feeds while you’re still rubbing the sleep out of your eyes isn’t the most mindful or calming habit. In its place, journaling provides balance and grounding that you can carry with you all day long. “Taking time to check in and honor where you are, who you are becoming, and what you are noticing is not only good for that moment,” Winkler adds. “When you intentionally start your day in this way, you can be more deliberate in your direction.”

My morning journaling experience

Since I’d recently researched the link between gratitude and longevity, I decided to kick off my entries listing three things I was grateful for. This included everything from the mundane (like enjoying a delicious cold brew coffee) to small but not insignificant delights (like having a highly satisfying BM upon waking up), but also more big-picture things that I don’t often acknowledge. For instance, I took time to be thankful for the freedom and flexibility granted by the nature of my work. I also wrote about people I was grateful to have in my life and why. Since communicating gratitude toward others helps release (and share) oxytocin and promotes stronger social bonds, I shared my sentiments with those who made it into my entries—and was touched that each and every one of them was touched as they listened.

Next, I penned updates on certain milestones and relationships. At the start of my journaling trial, I marked my four-year anniversary of moving to LA, which had me reflect on where I am now versus where I was then. Instead of defaulting to my usual mindset of what I “need” to improve and where I “should” be, I took care to focus on the progress I’ve made instead. By being more mindful with my reflections, I realized that the me of four years ago would be proud of how I’ve grown—and what I’ve accomplished—since.

Whenever I could remember them, I recapped dreams I had the night prior, the feelings they elicited, and what they could signify. Some offered insights into my complex feelings about certain people and situations, and journaling about them helped me unearth a few truths I’d yet to discern. “When we solely run our lives from the chattering mind we lose touch with [our] depth of wisdom and intuition,” Winkler explains. “Journaling helps you clear away the noise and debris so that you have easier access to your depth.”

In addition, I took general temperature checks of how my mind and mood were faring on a given morning. It wasn’t all pretty, but I was relieved to discover a few trends that made me feel less burdened. For example, I experienced a few successive days of heightened irritability, which made me question if I was losing steam with the progress I’d since made with my new morning routine. Within a week’s time, I realized this temper could—at least in part—be attributed to PMS and not being able to practice yoga that week, rather than feeling as though I “failed” in my efforts to improve my mindset. “It is easy to get lost in the constant cascade of thought or drown in the shifting tides of emotion,” Winkler shares. However, journaling can function as an anchor “to bridge the gap from limiting beliefs to your abundance within,” she says, elucidating patterns and illuminating connections an overactive mind may otherwise miss.

Throughout my entries, I remained honest while making a concerted effort to frame things within a positive (or at least productive) mindset. Even if I was in a funk, I consciously avoided deeming my thoughts as “bad” and indulging in negative self-talk. “As long as we journal with curious inner exploration and avoid self-judgment, it can be invaluable for expediting personal growth,” Chen explains. Once I wrote out any pain points, I proceeded to question why I could be feeling a certain way and what I could do to wiggle my way out of it. In most cases, I simply reminded myself to keep my chin up and my head afloat, and that things not only can but will get better.

Final takeaways

After journaling every morning for a month, I can say, without question, that it’s been rewarding in ways I never expected. As someone with lifelong mental health struggles who typically sees a proverbial glass as half empty, I’m honestly floored by how quickly I was able to use journaling as a tool for self-discovery, acceptance, and catharsis. The fact that I journaled before tending to my tasks also helped me start the day with a calmer, clearer headspace—which is a wonder in itself as I’m far from being a morning person.

Above all, the self-compassion my morning journaling routine fostered was the biggest game changer. I’m well aware that I’m my own biggest critic and I have difficulty being gentle on myself. However, reframing my inner monologues with honesty and grace—day in and day out—has been incredibly powerful. It’s not always easy to recognize the positive things in life, especially when I’m feeling down, but I was able to foster a sense of accomplishment from shifting my mindset and appreciating even the smallest moments of joy that each day brings.

In sum, my journaling practice has enriched my mornings and mentality in so many ways. I’ll absolutely continue with it and do my best to translate my insights beyond the page and into the world.

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