Lately I’ve really been enjoying one of the perks of journal writing: purging negativity on a visceral level so I can start daily with a clean slate.
I was always aware of this benefit, but recently I’ve developed a conscious appreciation for the fine art of bitching.
The generally accepted outlook in Psychology is that ruminating on a painful topic, worrying it to death like a dog trying to get at the marrow of a bone, can actually make you feel worse about it. You experience the snowball effect; a small spark of irritation is fed into a full blown fire and you’ve lost all perspective on the situation.
Writing down your complaints, however, tends to stop them from bouncing around in your head. Journaling turns off the merry-go-round.
Here are three major benefits that purging negativity on the page can offer you.
Free Up Mental Real Estate
I don’t know what the magic is in writing out the angst, but it works.
Writing is like an exorcism for me; the negative thoughts possessing me are struck out onto the page, freeing up mental real estate. Even my journal Parking Lot can provide the same relief – just knowing I’m going to write about it later lets me drop it and move on.
For awhile I was concerned that writing about an issue would bring the same result as thinking about it repeatedly. That writing about it would add energy around it and make it bigger and more intrusive. But it doesn’t. Instead, it affords almost instant freedom.
I’ve been crabbier than usual lately on account of my caffeine withdrawal. I decided to give up my massive espresso habit. In the beginning, the audible ticking my desk clock was enough irritation to throw me into a frenzy. It’s subsiding now, but my journal got me through this trying time by providing a landing spot to spew my juvenile complaints.
Knowing something “shouldn’t” bother me doesn’t prevent it from bothering me. Safely venting these misgivings and frustrations onto the page lets me move about in my life with less of a struggle.
Plus you get the added benefit of seeing your gripes in print. Trust me, if anything can shake you out of your negative reverie, it’s seeing two full pages of rant about socks left on the floor and then laughing your ass off about the ridiculousness of it.
Improve Your Relationships
Venting in my journal also allows me to have two-way, caring conversations with my friends and loved ones.
Unless you’re Mother Teresa, everyone needs a good rant once in awhile. But if you find yourself ranting on a daily basis, the act of sparing your best friend, your partner or your roommate the daily dose of negativity can do wonders for the relationship. (You should, of course, look at getting out of any situation that delivers that level of daily strife.)
Your relationships can suffer if all you bring to the table is your rant. Especially when it’s the first thing out of your mouth every time you see someone. I think it was Dr. Phil (on whom I have a secret crush) who wrote about the “first 5 minutes.”
The theory claims how you interact with your partner in the first five minutes you see them sets the tone for the rest of the day, and over time, the rest of the relationship. If the first thing you do every time you come in the door is vent about your boss for ten minutes, you’re damaging your relationship.
I’m particularly sensitive to this, mainly because I tend to be a venter. If I didn’t consciously redirect myself, I’d rant extensively. But if you’re not asking for feedback or delivering necessary information, you’re venting. And while venting is healthy and necessary, the best place for it is in your journal.
It’s not fair to expect your partner, roommate, or friend to be the daily recipient of your vents. Especially if you’re in a situation that’s driving you nuts. Delivering an earful to my unsuspecting roommate on a daily basis soon made him dread my arrival home. And it didn’t seem to make me feel any better.
Develop Your Self Control
Learning to delay your rant until you’re on the page is an exercise in self-restraint. Most of us want to vent as soon as we’re set off; the sooner the better. It’s a reflex.
Your blood pressure rises, your adrenaline starts flowing, and you’re instantly in fight or flight mode. You want to blow off some steam with a hearty venting session.
But learning to feel something and then choose your response, rather than just indulging a knee-jerk reaction, is an enormously powerful personal development tool. Practicing this technique by delaying your vent until you’re safely in your journal is a fabulous way to strengthen that control.
My Buddhist friend once told me, “You can’t control your reaction, but you can choose your response.” Journaling helps me choose my responses.
At one point I found myself working at a job that was ridiculously stressful and driving me bonkers. Every day I found my adrenaline pumping, smoke coming out of my ears. I needed to release some steam.
I wanted to let loose on somebody at work. Snap back at the person pissing me off. Or vent to a co-worker which, I’ve discovered the hard way, is never a good idea.
I decided to try keeping the angst on the page. I’d go take a break, open my journal, and go to town. Use all the bad words. Big block letters in black sharpie. I didn’t need to have it out with my coworkers or my boss. I could vent on paper.
Gradually, my knee-jerk reflex weakened as I took conscious control over my responses.Yes, I need to vent. No, I’m not going to do it now.
Journaling helped me build this self control, improving every area of my life.
As for my crazy-making job, it didn’t take long before the pages of proof piled up and I had to quit. Another benefit of daily journaling: you can’t kid yourself for long!