Every day you write hundreds – if not thousands — of words, whether in the form of an email, text message, social media post or all of the above. But when is the last time you really wrote? Pen-to-paper kind of stuff? Chances are not very often, save for the random grocery list or sticky note reminder. Growing research has shown a connection between a plethora of mental, emotional and physical benefits and writing about daily life, including distressing events.
Regular journaling may help you:
- Understand yourself better and boost self-confidence
- Clarify your feelings and thoughts
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Increase problem-solving, memory and comprehension
- Help resolve disagreements with others
- Cope with depression
- Improve immune system function
- Improve lung and liver function
- Improve your mood and memory
- Improve social and linguistic behavior
- Increase mindfulness and communication skills
With numerous benefits, regular writing has proved to be quite therapeutic. One of the best parts about journaling is you can say whatever you desire. Think of your journal as an all-accepting friend with whom you are free to say as you wish. By journaling weekly, you can help to control negative symptoms and improve your mood by tracking your day-to-day feelings and perceptions. You can look back and recognize your triggers, negative behaviors and thoughts, to discover new ways to help yourself grow. Journaling also provides an opportunity for positive self-talk. For example, with each entry you write, list at least five things you’ve done well or like about yourself.
Dr. James Pennebaker, of the University of Austin and author of Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering From Trauma and Emotional Upheaval, has conducted research on the correlation between journaling and healing. He has discovered that writing about emotional experiences has tangible health benefits. Dr. Pennebaker’s writing assignment is as follows:
Over the next four days, write about your deepest emotions and thoughts about the emotional upheaval that has been influencing your life the most. In your writing, really let go and explore the event and how it has affected you. You might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. Write continuously for 20 minutes.
Though writing can have transforming benefits, Pennebaker doesn’t necessarily believe you need to keep a daily diary:
I’m not convinced that having people write every day is a good idea. I’m not even convinced that people should write about a horrible event for more than a couple of weeks. You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity. But standing back every now and then and evaluating where you are in life is really important.
To begin journaling, start with 20 minutes of continuous writing for four consecutive days. You can do this whenever convenient for you: first thing in the morning, during your lunch break or right before bed. Find a place where you feel comfortable and won’t be disturbed. Remember that you are writing for you: don’t worry about spelling or grammar – just get lost in your thoughts and write about the first thing that comes to mind. You may just come out of the woods with a newfound sense of clarity. The healing properties lie not within the writer’s abilities, but within her mind.