Pandemic diaries: Why journaling now is the best time to start or restart

David G. Allan is the editorial director for CNN Travel, Style, Science and Wellness. This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project, to which you can subscribe here.

(CNN)You are living in an extraordinary time. So much is happening in the world, in your country, in your life. Making sense of it, processing, coping and even harnessing it to your benefit is important work. And writing in a personal journal is one of the most enjoyable, creative, simple and productive ways to accomplish those things.

Before we delve into the wellness benefits and creative options for your new or renewed journaling, here are my own bona fides: Encouraged by a middle school reading teacher (thank you, Ms. Gearhart, wherever you are), I started a journal in 1986 that I've kept up with ever since.
It's the most consistent, contiguous activity of my life besides eating, reading and watching television and movies. It's the closest I get to Malcom Gladwell's 10,000 practice hours toward skill mastery, as explained in his book "Outliers." By my interpretation of Gladwell's formula, I'm a journaling expert.

    Why you should write in a journal now

      "Now" is usually the best time to start anything. The sooner you begin, the sooner you'll benefit. As for journaling, it takes little initial preparation and effort to get started. You're reading this article and already thinking about writing, so let's do it!
        Also, consider the historical context of starting or restarting now. We are in the middle of a global pandemic with massive economic, political, cultural and personal implications. To journal now is to record history, as witnessed through your own lens. And that's exactly the kind of documentation that helps individuals and society make sense of events.
        "Only if we succeed in bringing this simple, daily material together," as the late Dutch Minister of Education Gerrit Bolkestein said, explaining the need to preserve diaries and letters during World War II, "only then will the scene of this struggle for freedom be painted in full depth and shine."
          A journal or diary is also your personal history. You may not be eager to revisit this strange and challenging chapter anytime soon, but at some point in the future, your current thoughts, activities, worries and other such details will become fascinating. Journaling is a great memory aide. "The palest ink is clearer than the fondest memory," goes the Chinese proverb.
          It's never too late either. Start now and record reflections of the last eight months while they're still fresh and unfolding.

          Free therapy

          While research specifically on long-term journaling or keeping a diary is lacking, there are mental, physical and practical benefits to writing about what upsets us and what makes us happy, according to studies and experts (other than myself).
          Therapy is beneficial to everyone, no matter what you're coping with or working through. Whether you're getting professional help or not, writing about it is also a highly effective — and extremely cost-effective — mental health tool.
          Writing out our worries and problems helps us work through them. The act of reflection creates perspective, and articulating an issue is the first step in solving it. Through the safe and private act of writing, we can better understand our fears and even trauma, which helps ease the grip they hold on us. On the flip side, reflecting on what you're grateful for is proven to increase happiness.
          James Pennebaker, a psychologist, researcher and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has studied the benefits of personal, reflective writing for decades. In his numerous studies on "expressive writing" -- focused on writing about an upsetting or traumatic event -- he has found it to be a "free, simple and efficient system to work through issues that are keeping you awake at night," he explained to me.
          "Expressive writing works for a number of reasons," Pennebaker said. First, just acknowledging an upsetting event has value. "And writing about it also helps the person find meaning or understand it." If you don't find meaning, he said, "you may be constantly thinking about it."

          OK, but what else do I get?

          "Once you work through it and are not thinking about it, you sleep better," Pennebaker said, and sleep has many health benefits. "Social relationships improve" as well, he added, probably because you can more easily focus on others and their issues.
          In one study by Pennebaker, students who employed expressive writi