I’ve been journaling for 10 years now. In the process, I’ve written hundreds of pages filled with emotions, rants, stories, and experiences, both the good and the bad. Some people have asked me if this habit of journaling can be harmful. For example, do I ever get lost in negativity if I keep writing about it?
So can journaling be harmful? The answer is yes, there are scenarios in which journaling can be harmful, but these scenarios are easily avoidable. Just like anything, you have to moderate the amount of time you spend doing it. You simply have to know when to stop.
This article includes 5 examples of when journaling can make you feel worse. But more importantly, I’ll discuss tips to help you avoid these scenarios.
I started journaling when I was 20 years old. As soon as I completed the first page of my journal, I knew I was going to continue this habit.
It was love at first sight.
While this article is about how journaling can be harmful, that doesn’t mean that I think journaling is harmful. In fact, journaling has helped me in a lot of ways. Despite that, I have encountered some ways in which journaling can be harmful to someone.
What does our data say?
This article is not just about my own experiences. In fact, I’ve interviewed 19 people who’ve overcome struggles of mental health through their habit of journaling. These people have shared amazing stories with me of how journaling helped them. Here’s what journaling helped them with:
Examples of how journaling can be harmful
That said, there are still some scenarios where journaling can make you feel worse. Here are some examples of how journaling can be harmful:
- Journaling may cause you to overthink your life.
- Journaling can be too confronting at times.
- Writing about negativity might cause you to spiral down.
- You can get stuck inside your journal.
- Other people can find your journal and use the information against you.
I’ll briefly explain these simple examples here. If you are wondering if you should start journaling, you may relate to some of these!
1. Journaling may cause you to overthink your life
“How am I going to journal about this experience?”
Some people think about their journals so much that it keeps them from experiencing their lives firsthand.
Example: You’re at a concert with a couple of friends and you’re enjoying your time. One of your friends makes a joke and you find it incredibly funny. You fear losing this awesome joke and the memory of this moment, so you rush to the toilet to make a little note about it in your phone or notebook. Then you go back to the concert and you find out that you missed your favorite part of a song…
This might just be a silly example, but it is possible that a compulsive journaling habit can cause you to constantly overthink your life. This can keep you from living in the moment and enjoying your life as it goes.
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2. Journaling can be confronting at times
When you are in a rough spot and want to write down the negativity that’s in your life, doing so can be very confronting. This can cause anxiety for some people. I’ve found a great example of this which I’ll share with you later in this article.
3. Writing about negativity might cause you to spiral down
Our minds are interesting, as the things that are on our minds can cause a reaction of thoughts. More often than not, we are unaware when our mind enters such a chain reaction. It’s very simple, actually. Your current mindset can influence the mindset that you’ll have later.
When you are going through a rough patch, journaling can cause your mind to spiral down into a chain reaction of negativity. I’m not saying that this will definitely happen to you, but for some, this venting can result in a negative mindset. This can sometimes be prevented by simply not journaling about your negativity at all.
4. You can get stuck inside your journal
Some people feel such an extreme urge to journal that their lives are consumed by it.
A great example of this is Robert Shields. For 25 years, he journaled about every single 5-minute interval of his life. When he had to stop due to a stroke, he had produced a journal of 37.5 million words that filled 94 boxes. Just think about the scope of such a journal. It’s truly bizarre.
For your reference, I’ve been journaling for almost 10 years and my journal currently contains over 400,000 words. I can calculate this easily since I have switched to a digital journal.
At my current rate, 25 years of journaling would result in roughly 1 million words. Robert Shields basically wrote 30 times as much as I do.
Robert Shield’s habit of journaling can definitely be described as compulsive. I think this is the best example of how you can get stuck inside your journal. Do you really want the majority of your life to be about how you’ve been journaling about your life?
I suppose not.
5. Your words can be used against you if others read your inner thoughts
One of my readers shared this example with me:
People you trust can stumble upon your journal and read everything you thought was private. And because it’s your private journal, you’ve written things that others can view as hurtful, embarrassing, or just weird. In the example of my reader, the journal was found by others and they handled it very poorly:
They used my insecurities against me. My failures (all written down nicely – thanks journal!) were used as reasons to not trust me.
I think this immature behavior is really just a result of insecurity and a complete lack of self-confidence.
There are a couple of things you can do to prevent this from happening.
- Be assertive to those who know where to find your journal and make it clear that this is your personal journal.
It took a long time before I personally told my girlfriend where I hid my journal, and when I did, I tried to make it very clear that this journal was not supposed to be read by others.
Here’s one of our guides about how to be assertive if that helps.
- Only tell the people you trust
I told my girlfriend about my journal because I fully trust her not to dig around whenever she’s bored. She knows where I store my journals, and I feel no anxiety whatsoever about it.
To be fair, though, when I started journaling, I was extremely scared that someone would stumble upon my journals. That brings me to the next tip:
- Hide your journals and don’t tell anyone about them
When I started journaling, I hid my journals inside the casing of my computer. One of the side panels was movable, so I crammed in my journal every time I was done writing. I’m 100% sure that nobody ever found it there.
While not the ideal solution, this can prevent others from reading your journal while still enjoying the many benefits of emptying your mind on paper.
- Use an app that requires a password
This solution is unfortunately not applicable to actual hard-copy journals, but there are journaling apps out there that are protected by password or fingerprint unlocking.
Journaling is only harmful if you allow it
The issue with these examples is that there is no moderation. You have to moderate the amount of time you spend journaling daily. This goes for basically anything you do. No matter how much you like it or how much it benefits your life, you shouldn’t spend your whole life doing that one thing.
A good example is one of my biggest passions: running. Running has a great impact on my happiness. But does that mean I should run every waking hour of my life?
The benefits of journaling, running, or anything really, diminishes as the quantity increases. That’s why you need to properly moderate the time you spend on these things.
These examples of how journaling can be harmful are easily avoided when a little moderation is applied.
Have I ever been harmed by journaling?
No. As I said, I’ve written over 400,000 words in my journal and I have never felt anxious or troubled by my words. And before you ask, there is plenty of negativity in my journal! I don’t just write about the positive things that are happening in my life.
In fact, I feel immense joy and a sense of accomplishment if I re-read some of my entries from years ago. My journal is a testament to how much I’ve grown, and for that, I’m forever grateful.
No idea what to write about in your journal?
If you have no idea what to write about, then you’re not alone. A lot of people pick up the pencil but don’t know where or how to start journaling.
This always makes me think of David Sedaris’ journal. He writes his journal in such a simple – yet playful and funny – way, and it’s all because he just writes about the things he sees. Here’s how he explains it in his published diaries:
It might look like my average diary entry amounts to no more than seven sentences, but in fact I spend an inordinate amount of time writing about my day – around forty-five minutes, usually. If nothing big happened, I’ll reflect on a newspaper article or a report I heard on the radio. I’m not big on weather writing but have no policy against it. Thus when life gets really dull, I’ll just look out the window and describe the color of the sky. That will lead to something else, most often: a bird being mean to another bird or the noise a plane makes.David Sedaris, Theft By Finding
See how simple it really is?
If you’re still finding this hard, here are more tips on what to write about in a journal.
Before finishing this article, I want to leave you with another beautiful passage from David Sedaris’ diaries:
That’s the thing with a diary, though. In order to record your life, you sort of need to live it. Not at your desk, but beyond it. Out in the world where it’s so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need to sit down and write about it.David Sedaris, Theft By Finding
This comes back to the point I wanted to make in this article at the start. Journaling is only harmful when we allow it and let it turn into a compulsive habit.
Life is right in front of us, and not inside our journal. If we want something to journal about, we have to paradoxically put down our pens and start living instead.
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I hope you now know whether journaling can be harmful or not. The answer is yes, but journaling is only harmful if we allow it to be. These situations are easily avoided if we moderate the amount of journaling that we do.
Do you want to share your experiences? Do you have a personal example of how journaling has influenced your life? You’re more than welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below!