September 27, 2023
The Healing Power of Journaling: How Writing Can Transform Your Life
Writing about stressful and traumatic events can significantly benefit our physical and emotional health. In fact, studies show that time spent journaling about our deepest thoughts and feelings can even reduce the number of sick days we take off work.
Research suggests that journaling can help us accept rather than judge our mental experiences, resulting in fewer negative emotions in response to stressors.
Why is Journaling Good For You?
Journaling is a widely used non-pharmacological tool for coaching and counseling and the treatment of mental illness. Two forms of journaling are particularly commonplace in psychotherapy.
Research on Journaling
Studies show that by capturing our thoughts and feelings on paper, “participants often reveal a considerable range and depth of emotional trauma”. Indeed, while the experience of writing can be upsetting, reports find it valuable and meaningful and, ultimately, a valuable part of the acceptance process.
In fact, research suggests a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits from expressive writing.
Lowered blood pressure
Improved lung and liver function
Less time spent in hospital
Improved psychological wellbeing
Fewer depressive and avoidance symptoms
Reduced stress-related visits to the doctor
Less work absenteeism
Less time out of work following job loss
Higher student grade averages
The Psychology Behind Journaling
Research has consistently linked the habitual tendency to accept one’s mental experiences with greater psychological health. Study findings suggest that accepting our feelings is linked to better psychological health and positive therapeutic outcomes, including improved moods and reduced anxiety.
And this is where journaling can help. It can promote acceptance–and mindful acceptance in particular–which is a valuable and effective way of getting unstuck, freeing ourselves to move forward.
While the exact mechanisms involved in journaling that confer physical and mental health benefits are not clear, the following psychological processes may be involved, to a greater or lesser degree:
An emotional release of unconscious conflicts through venting negative feelings.
Increased cognitive processing
Time spent creating coherent narratives of what has happened.
Increased and prolonged exposure to stressful events may lead to a reduction in harmful thoughts and feelings.
Actively inhibiting negative emotions takes a considerable effort, further stressing the body and mind. Confronting them may support cognitive integration and further understanding.
For each suggestion, there is supporting and contradictory evidence. The benefits of journaling seem apparent, yet the mechanisms beneath are yet to be fully understood.
5 Surprising Benefits of Journaling
Journaling is a popular therapeutic intervention used in many different disciplines and psychological approaches. Easy to implement and get started, it can benefit anyone experiencing different mental health issues:
Journaling for Anxiety
Journaling has proven popular and effective for treating clients experiencing anxiety, possibly because of an improved acceptance of negative emotions and a more helpful emotional response to stress.
Journaling for Depression
Research suggests that expressive writing and gratitude journaling can reduce symptoms of depression, providing an effective intervention for clients receiving treatment in therapy.
Journaling for Stress Management
Journaling can support coping and reduce the impact of stressful events – potentially avoiding burnout and chronic anxiety. Studies link writing privately about stressful events and capturing thoughts and emotions on paper with decreased mental distress.
Journaling for Reflection
When stressed or consumed by negative thoughts, it’s difficult to view our situation objectively. Writing in a journal can help us create the space and distance needed to reflect on what has happened, where we are, and what is ahead.
Journaling for Recovery
Research suggests that journaling, particularly expressive writing, can help those experiencing or recovering from the emotional trauma associated with PTSD.
Another innovative approach combined journaling with visualization and appeared to offer lasting support to war veterans.