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Journaling creates a non-judgemental space to reflect on your inner experience, and explore your current stressors, all while shining a light on your personal goals and strengths.
Have you ever thought about keeping a journal? (Are thoughts of “Hi, journal….today was….Dear Diary….” floating through your mind?) For hundreds of years, people across the globe have viewed journals as trusted friends. Reflecting on daily experiences, personal values, relationships, conflicts, and successes - can all help you to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. Journaling has a significant impact on overall mental health for a variety of reasons as we will discuss, but put simply, journaling is about capturing your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. You see, those blank pages are not as daunting as you may think; they create a non-judgemental space to reflect on your inner experience, and explore your current stressors, all while shining a light on your personal goals and strengths. For these reasons and more, journaling serves to improve your emotional and physical health!
Personally, I have had a love/hate relationship with keeping a journal. Must it be paper and pen? Can it be electronic? Am I doing this correctly? But I learned a very important secret….journaling is no longer about forcing yourself to pour out your heart daily and tuck it away with a lock and key (like every journal I had growing up). It’s not relegated to children or teenagers trying to figure out who they are amidst hormone changes and identity development. Nor is it specifically for older and wiser folks - it’s not an old-fashioned practice with specific rules. Instead, journaling is whatever you chose it to be! Did you know that you can actually write your way to a sense of peace, calm, and overall better health?
Reduce Stress - Journaling can actually lessen the impact of physical stressors on your overall health. Simply writing for 15 minutes a day, 3-5 times a week, can effectively reduce overall levels of stress. Exploring your reactions to specific situations allows some of the emotional weight that is precariously perched on your shoulders to be transferred to the pages of your journal. This gives you time to think about the tools and strategies you have to navigate these scenarios.
Boost Mood - Studies show that keeping a journal leads to increased gratitude and optimism - both of which can elevate mood, and sense of emotional well-being and happiness. This study demonstrates that productive journaling can even lower the severity of symptoms of depression and anxiety. By focusing on your thoughts and sifting through them on paper, you can actually reduce the frequency of negative thoughts and improve your overall ability to shift them more optimistically. How? Putting these thoughts on paper allows you to step back, review, determine the credibility of these thoughts, and react with a more objective perspective. You can prioritize your worries, track patterns in your mood, and have space to identify solutions to some of your present problems. Essentially, you have the ability to choose how to respond in a less emotional, more analytical way simply by writing - and utilizing positive self talk while resolving your concerns.
Strengthen Emotional Awareness and Overall Sense of Self - Journaling encourages you to dig deeper into yourself, the parts of you typically not shared with others. It allows you to connect with your deepest desires and inner needs. The simple act of writing helps you to remain present while keeping perspective. Other benefits? It emphasizes important patterns in your life and allows you to develop more adaptive and integrated schemes about yourself, others, and the world. Pretty cool, huh?
Strengthens Immune Cells - I know it sounds odd, but journaling has been shown to lower your risk of getting sick and instead, enhances your immune system!! Writing can help to reduce stress, improve liver and lung functioning, and reduce blood pressure. How can this be possible, you wonder? As we said above, journaling helps you to focus and organize your thoughts coherently, which elevates mood. People who are more optimistic and have a clearer perspective on their life and place in the world, have less negative thoughts and are shown to have significantly lower levels of depression and anxiety, which are often correlated with physical ailments.
Keeps Memory Razor Sharp - The mere act of journaling unlocks and engages right-brained creativity, which essentially gives you access to the entirety of your brainpower!
Okay great, so now you can acknowledge there are numerous health benefits to journaling, but not sure where to start? Keep in mind that there are no rules for journaling, no right or wrong. No teacher looking over your shoulder and correcting your spelling, grammar, or punctuation. It’s intimidating to stare at a blank page - but remember, this is for your eyes only (and not everyone can be Shakespeare). Have no fear, I’ve got you covered.
How do you use your personal strengths and abilities at work?
What would you do if you loved yourself unconditionally? How can you act on these things whether you do or don’t?
Name a compassionate way you supported a friend recently. Now write down how you can do the same for yourself.
What part of your workday do you most enjoy?
Make a list of everything you’d like to say no to.
Still not sure this is for you? I invite you to look at this Five_Minute_Journal_Quickstart.pdf template of pdfcoffee.com_five-minute-journal-pdf-free.pdf and give it a shot. Five simple minutes a day to help march you toward a better version of yourself. Journaling can help you make sense and create order when life feels chaotic. So, penny for your thoughts?
Dr. Joy Nadler Frankel is the Clinical Director for the Northeast Region of CHE. She has been part of the CHE family for 12.5 years.
Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338
Lambert NM, Fincham FD, Stillman TF (2012) Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion. Cogn Emot 26: 615-633.
Smyth, J. M., Johnson, J. A., Auer, B. J., Lehman, E., Talamo, G., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2018). Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR mental health, 5(4), e11290. https://doi.org/10.2196/11290