Writing has mental health benefits and can do wonders for your health. Beyond keeping your creative juices flowing—regular writing can give you a safe, cathartic release valve for the stresses of your daily life. Not only does regular writing make you feel good, it helps you re-live the events you experienced in a safe environment where you can process them without fear or stress. In fact, there’s so much data about the mental and emotional benefits of journaling that as counselors, social workers, and therapists often encourage their patients to do it. This study from the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment is a great experiment, and a solid summary of current research on the topic.
In the piece, the researchers noted that 15–20 minutes on 3–5 occasions was enough to help the study participants deal with traumatic, stressful, or otherwise emotional events.
It’s been specifically effective in people with severe illnesses, like cancer, for example. In fact, the practice is so well regarded, there’s a Center for Journal Therapy dedicated to the mental health benefits of regular journaling, both in therapeutic and personal settings. It’s not just what you write about though. How you write plays a role as well. This University of Iowa study showed that journaling about stressful events helped participants deal with the events they experienced. The key, however, was to focus on what you were thinking and feeling as opposed to your emotions alone. In short, you get the best benefits of journaling when you’re telling your personal story, not just writing about your feelings on their own. It’s a great example of how telling your own personal story can make a huge difference in your well being.
The University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. I know what you’re thinking: “So writing a few sentences a day may keep me healthier longer, but so will eating lima beans! Why should I bother journaling when I’ve already got too much on my plate?” The following facts may convince you. Scientific evidence supports that journaling provides other unexpected mental health benefits. The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you. Begin journaling and begin experiencing these benefits:
- Clarify your thoughts and feelings. Do you ever seem all jumbled up inside, unsure of what you want or feel? Taking a few minutes to jot down your thoughts and emotions (no editing!) will quickly get you in touch with your internal world.
- Know yourself better. By writing routinely you will get to know what makes you feel happy and confident. You will also become clear about situations and people who are toxic for you — important information for your emotional well-being.
- Reduce stress. Writing about anger, sadness and other painful emotions helps to release the intensity of these feelings. By doing so you will feel calmer and better able to stay in the present.
- Solve problems more effectively. Typically we problem solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. But sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging right-brained creativity and intuition. Writing unlocks these other capabilities, and affords the opportunity for unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
- Resolve disagreements with others. Writing about misunderstandings rather than stewing over them will help you to understand another’s point of view. And you just may come up with a sensible resolution to the conflict.
In addition to all of these wonderful benefits, keeping a journal allows you to track patterns, trends and improvement and growth over time. When current circumstances appear insurmountable, you will be able to look back on previous dilemmas that you have since resolved.