How journaling can enhance general well-being and support dental professionals in their daily work

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Keeping a journal can help reduce depression, enhance creativity and improve sleep and self-knowledge, supporting dental professionals in their well-being, for improved patient care. (Image: Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock)

Wed. 28 June 2023


Throughout the year our continuing professional development requires us to reflect on the changes we want to bring about in our professional lives, and this may on occasion lead to us thinking about our personal lives. For the purpose of this article, I will explore how keeping a journal through combining professional reflective practice and personal reflection can be utilised by dental professionals to enhance their individual well-being, throughout a year’s cycle.

Keeping a journal is something that has been of interest to me for many years. I have explored it, stopped writing and started again, and discovered that whenever I keep a journal I have observed a positive shift. I seem to be more productive and progressive in my personal and professional life, facing less resistance and more flow in all areas.

Keeping a journal for dental professionals

As dental professionals, our well-being is of paramount importance so that we can thrive and provide the best possible care to our patients. I firmly believe that there is always an opportunity to enhance our state of well-being through utilising protective measures, such as a journal. Journaling is the private recording of one’s experiences, observations, feelings and attitudes in order to explore and reflect on these. It is thus a reflective practice, reflection being the “active persistent and careful examination of the truth and the facts that surround it”.1

Everyone would concur that dental professionals are regularly exposed to innumerable challenges.2 In order to continue providing care that meets the standards set by the General Dental Council (GDC) for UK-registered dental professionals or equivalent registry bodies, dental professionals need to implement and utilise supportive means to reduce the negative impact of the challenges they face.

The GDC supports reflective practice as a way to manage dental professionals’ growth and well-being and for that reason requires reflection after participation in continuing professional development (CPD) activities.3 The GDC states that employers should encourage teams to make time for reflection as a way of aiding development, improving well-being and deepening professional commitment.4 Health regulators now consider reflection to be an essential aspect of clinical practice.1

The reflective practice required by the GDC refers to professional reflection, deemed necessary for professional growth that is an essential element for all dental professionals registered with the GDC. However, it does not include personal reflection. Keeping a combined personal and professional journal could support dental professionals’ well-being and have a positive impact on their personal and professional life, which although may be defined as being separate are inherently interlinked.

The benefits of journaling

The true beauty of keeping a journal is that the writer is free to make it what he or she wants it to be. It simply allows you to understand your thoughts and feelings more clearly. Keeping a journal can have a positive impact on various areas of life, some of which I will outline in this section.

Depression and anxiety

Numerous studies have shown that journaling can reduce overall levels of depression.5 A study showed that writing in a journal can be as effective as cognitive and behavioural therapy for reducing the risk of depression in young adults.6 Journaling can promote acceptance and mindful acceptance in particular—which is a valuable and effective way of freeing ourselves to move forward.7 In addition, study findings have suggested that accepting our feelings is linked to improved psychological health and positive therapeutic outcomes, including improved mood and reduced anxiety.8

Memory and creativity

Some use journaling as a means to capture ideas, organise their lives and keep track of their goals. Keeping a journal helps you create order and organise your mind and offers the added benefit of improving your memory and cognitive skills.9 By unburdening the brain, you can think more clearly, spot patterns and unleash your creativity.10

Improved sleep and overall health

As a result of reduced stress and better mental health, your physical health will improve too. It has been found that journaling can help improve sleep and immune function, and even enhance physical health.11

Some people even employ journaling as a form of meditation and a way to regulate emotions, as it causes actual changes in the brain, embedding life lessons and helping us to remember them.11


Journaling is a good way to increase self-awareness. This is supported by science and personal experience.12, 13 By using your journal to reflect on your thoughts, actions and emotions, you will be able to react more positively to the world around you.

Journaling is a way of keeping track of who we really are while shaping our own narrative, irrespective of who is listening. How many of us really understand themselves, know who we really are, what really fulfils and drives us? If we all knew ourselves better, this could be part of the chain of taking positive strides every day to make better decisions that align with our authentic selves and aspirations.

How to journal

Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong way to journal. What is advised frequently in the literature, however, is to just start and allow yourself to be your own guide. Your writings can be pages long or just a few sentences. If giving an account in a journal does not suit you, you could use other forms, such as mind mapping or a fish-bone diagram.14 Gillie Bolton is a leading authority on reflective practice and offers excellent resources for further reading.15

The following sets out guidance in steps on how to start journaling:

  1. Your perception—regard your writing time as your personal relaxation time, not as a task.15 It is a time when you can de-stress and unwind.10 It is time for your self-care, self-reflection and self-growth. Your personal reflection can contribute to your daily journey of growth and the gift of living life and thriving every day. You are doing something good for your mind and body.
  2. Your why—identify why you wish to commit to journaling and dedicate your time to journaling.
  3. Your vision—begin by writing a list outlining all the benefits you envisage journaling could bring to your life.
  4. Beginning—through understanding your perception of, your why for and your vision for journaling, you can begin to journal in order to realise the opportunity it offers you.
  5. When to journal—write every day. Try to find yourself 15 minutes of protected time when you will not be disturbed. This may be challenging in the beginning, but once you have established a time this will help you with writing regularly.
  6. Constraints—avoid imposing constraints such as spelling and grammar on your writing. It is your own private place to express your feelings however you will without regard to what others might think.
  7. How long to write for—write continuously for 6 or 7 minutes about whatever comes to mind from your day. Write about topics or events you are reflecting on, including your thoughts and feelings that may be positive or negative. This is intended to help you learn to look further than what immediately comes to mind.16
  8. Prompting questions—use these questions to help jump-start your writing:
  • When did you feel most engaged?
  • When did you feel most distant?
  • What action by another person did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What surprised you most?17
  1. Structure—you do not need to follow any particular structure, but if you prefer to start with some structure, the following could guide you:18
  • Define a specific situation on the basis of your answer to the questions of “Who?”, “What?” and “Where?”.
  • Describe your emotional state (How did this make you feel?).
  • Try to make sense of the situation (Why did this happen?).
  • Describe a possible personal development arising from this kind of situation (Could you have done something in a different way?).
  • Reflect on how this realisation could be put into practice in the future.
  • Try to think of the consequences of this realisation and try to encourage yourself.
  1. Review what you have written, uncritically.

It is essential that patient anonymity is maintained throughout your journaling, and this is a requirement for all professional reflections and writing. Among the information that must not be mentioned is age, sex, gender, job title, ethnicity, ward or practice you saw the patient at or medical condition.19 It is advised to check with your regulatory body and indemnifier for guidance in this regard.


Employing journaling for professional and personal reflection could have a positive influence on the well-being of dental professionals. Patients will benefit from your enhanced well-being, so I encourage you to take the steps that allow you to focus on your well-being first. If a journal could be an opportunity for you, I would encourage you to explore it and employ it to identify your needs and make positive changes.

If you keep a journal, you are in good company! Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin and Marie Curie were a few famous journal keepers.

Editorial note:

A list of references is available here.

A recording of this article is available here.

Payam Husain, a student dental hygienist based in Leuven in Belgium, co-contributed to this article.

Dental profession Dental professionals Mental health Well-being

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