You may be surprised to learn that one of your best wellness tools is a journal. Journaling offers an array of benefits — from easing stress to sparking self-discovery. If you’re not currently reaping the rewards of putting pen to paper, here are five reasons to start using a journal today, especially if you have a chronic illness or find yourself stuck in burnout.
1. Journaling helps to reduce stress and anxiety by venting freely.
One of the most well-known benefits of journaling is stress relief. When you pour your thoughts and feelings out on the page, you’re able to take a step back from whatever is causing you stress and gain some much-needed perspective.
But did you know, writing down your worries also helps to externalize them, which can make them feel less daunting and more manageable?
In the first-ever study on expressive writing (Reference Pennebaker & Beall, 1986), college students wrote for 15 minutes on 4 consecutive days about ‘the most traumatic or upsetting experiences of their entire lives,’ while controls wrote about superficial topics, such as their room or their shoes.
Participants who wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings reported significant benefits in both objectively assessed and self-reported physical health four months later, with less frequent visits to the health center and a trend of fewer sick days. The authors concluded that:
“Writing about earlier traumatic experience was associated with both short-term increases in physiological arousal and long-term decreases in health problems.”
For those with chronic health issues, early childhood trauma is often linked to the appearance of symptoms and conditions. Journaling can be a safe and effective way to process these traumatic experiences, through letting go of painful memories and better understanding how they are being processed in our adult lives.
2. Journaling may support immunity.
According to another study published by Cambridge University, journaling about stressful events can boost your immune system and decrease your susceptibility to illness.
The study suggests that writing about your deepest thoughts and feelings may contribute to:
- Fewer stress-related doctor visits
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved mood
- Greater well-being
Participants reported fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety and reported greater resilience in the months following the experiment.
Those who wrote about their stressors produced fewer sick days than the control group, suggesting that journaling can help our bodies fight off infection. And this makes sense given all we know about stress and its effects on our nervous system.
So, next time you’re feeling under the weather, grab a notebook and let it all out. When your nervous system can relax, your body can concentrate on fighting off bacteria and viruses.
3. Journaling encourages space from negative thoughts.
When negative or worried thoughts arise, it’s easy to get caught up in their catastrophic stories. Jotting down your thoughts, however, creates space and distance to consider them more objectively.
This distance is formally called cognitive defusion, a helpful concept from acceptance and commitment therapy. The idea is that you are not your thoughts, emotions, or physical symptoms; instead, you are the context in which they occur. In other words, if your thoughts aren’t serving you, you don’t have to believe them.
Instead, you can use journaling to see your thoughts as separate from you.
To further underscore this separation as you’re journaling, try adding this phrase:
“I’m having the thought that…”
As you read it back to yourself, or even as you write it, it will seem less like the absolute truth, and more like an idea. Once you can see the thought for what it really is (just a thought), you can take space from it, question its validity, and even choose to replace it.
4. Journaling provides a way to process emotions.
Something magic happens in our brain when we put pen to paper. Writing requires the use of your left (rational) brain while your emotional center is holding all the feelings and meanings. When you journal, you activate both sides of your brain simultaneously as you also inadvertently problem-solve.
In other words, your rational brain processes and navigates your emotions to make sense of them, while the emotional brain feels seen and heard because you’re expressing your truest feelings. When we address stress and emotions, we need to deal with every part of the brain to make sure that the emotional energy gets released correctly and doesn’t stay pent up inside us, festering.
To add to this powerful process, naming specific feelings you’re experiencing and accepting them reduces their strength. By identifying our emotions, they lose their charge and become less overwhelming, which allows us to deal with them more calmly.
The best part of journaling is that it gives you the opportunity to process your emotions in a safe, contained space. It’s neutral and doesn’t have any agenda. No judgment, no pressure, and no “helpful suggestions.” Even if what you’re saying sounds silly or irrational, no one has to know.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, consider using journaling as a way to explore your feelings and work through challenging experiences.
5. Journaling facilitates self-discovery.
In addition to promoting mental and physical well-being, journaling can also foster self-discovery by helping you get in touch with your thoughts, feelings, values, and goals. Spending some time each day writing about what’s going on in your head can allow you to gain insight into yourself, identify areas you’d like to work on, and set personal intentions for growth.
If you’re curious about what makes you tick or are looking for some direction in life, a journal is a good place to start.
Scientific Research on Journaling
There is a ton of evidence out there on the benefits of writing therapy. It’s cheap, easy, and accessible to anyone, anywhere. It’s wonderful when something so powerful is readily available to people of all different ages, backgrounds, and beliefs.
If you’re looking to identify and accept your emotions, manage your stress, and ease the symptoms of chronic and mental illness, pick up a pen and give it a shot. Not sure where to start? For a guided tour to kick off your self-discovery journey, check out the Your Daily® Journal.
And if you find yourself interested, but resistant to journaling, read our other article, Why You’re Secretly Resistant to Journaling.