While you may not consider yourself to be a writer, you probably write every day. You write to-do lists, grocery lists, and assignments that you need to remember. But putting a pen to paper is more powerful than simply helping you remember to bring back a library book: it can help to improve your health and wellbeing, both mental and physical. And it’s the best 4-letter “F” word that ever existed: FREE!
Several studies have demonstrated that writing about a traumatic, emotional, or stressful event improves both physical and mental health.
- reduced blood pressure
- improved immune system functioning
- improved mood
- fewer stress-related doctors visits
- improvements in sleep
Positive behavior change is another benefit of journaling. Studies by psychologist James Pennebaker and associates show that college students who wrote about their thoughts and feelings about stressful events for up to 20 minutes daily had an increased grade point average in the months following the study. In another study, senior professionals who had been laid off from their jobs got new jobs more quickly after journaling, compared to those who did not journal.
In an interview with Psychology Today, Psychotherapist Kathleen Adams spoke of her first experience with a journal: “I got a clear sense that I wanted to pour my heart out, have that emotional outlet and find emotional balance. I learned very quickly that I could soothe myself with my writing by telling myself my deepest secrets, concerns, and fears, and then give myself comfort.”
If you want to give journaling a try, the first step is to choose how you want to record your thoughts and feelings:
- Paper Notebooks: If you love the feeling of physically writing down your thoughts, traditional pen and paper may be your method! This may be the right choice for someone who wants to slow down and be more thoughtful when writing. Using a paper journal may give you more privacy if you are worried about others who use your computer. There are also a ton of cute notebooks to choose from!
- Diary apps: If you just can’t separate from your phone or computer, there are plenty of apps that promise both privacy and a nice environment to record your thoughts. Check out are Penzu, Day One, and RedNotebook.
- Blogging: Blogging adds a more public element to the writing process. You may receive messages of support from readers who are have also gone through some of your experiences. Blogs can be totally anonymous so you can still express yourself freely while not having to worry that your identity will be published.
Here are some tips to get started with journaling:
- Try to write everyday: Think of journaling as a daily practice that you would fit into your schedule, like going for a run. Aim to write for 20 minutes each day at first, and then decide if you want to write for a little longer or a little less once you get the hang of it.
- Write whatever feels right: You don’t have to have a set structure in your journal. It is your own personal experience; write freely without worrying what other people think. Some people choose to write a lot, others want to only write a few bullet points each day. Make it your own!
- Never self-edit: Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. This is about your thoughts and feelings, and not so much about whether to use ‘affect’ or ‘effect!’
- Record it all… the good the bad and the ugly: It is important to write about both the highest and lowest moments of your life. This will help give you perspective of the complete picture.
- If you open your journal and get an immediate case of Writer’s Block, just start with a simple sentence completion, such as “Right now I feel_______” or “Today I did _______ and it made me feel _______.” Another great option is to write a list of things that you are grateful for.
Journaling is a great way to get all of those thoughts spinning in your head organized, to focus on your thoughts and feelings, and to reduce stress.
Do you journal? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us!