Updated: Jul 13
Given the tendency to type and use our phones for almost every aspect of our lives, it seems rather anachronistic to suggest the use of journalling and writing using pen and paper! But I throw down the challenge to all of you to try it. It's not only a very soothing activity to try but it also has some extremely powerful and evidence-based benefits for your well-being.
What is journalling
This is the practice of putting pen to paper and writing. To be effective, it should be done regularly and for at least 10 minutes per entry.
There are some simple guidelines for journaling which I will describe later on, but it's important to state that there are no "best practice" methods for journalling or only one method to do it.
5 Health Benefits from journalling
1 Helps to reduce stress and anxiety
"Journalling can be a great pressure releasing valve when we feel overwhelmed or simply have a lot going on internally".
Amy Hoyt, MD Mending Trauma
Journalling can be a very effective way of calming your thoughts. By writing about the issues that are causing you stress and anxiety, the activity of doing so has a cathartic effect and also helps prevent catastrophising about events. Writing provides clarity, a way of disseminating and making sense of events and thoughts.
It also provides a method for helping you to understand what are the trigger points that cause you stress and anxiety - continuous writing will help to illuminate patterns and provide markers - thereby helping you to adjust behaviours and activities which cause those anxieties and stresses.
A 2006 study by Stice, Burton, Bearman and Rohde showed that journalling can be as effective as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy when it comes to reducing depression in young adults.
2 Helps you process a traumatic event
A 2005 study by Australian researchers found that journalling carried similar benefits to other health interventions and led to lower blood pressure. They believe that journalling enables people to confront emotions they were avoiding and cognitively process what's happened to them.
In his landmark 1988 study, outlined in James W. Pennebaker's book “Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion,” students were randomly assigned to write about either traumatic experiences or superficial topics for four days in a row. Six weeks after the writing sessions, those that had delved into traumatic experiences reported more positive moods and fewer illnesses than those writing about everyday experiences.
From my own experiences, I have found journalling to be particularly effective in helping me to process, understand and ultimately move on from the traumatic and life-changing experiences of suffering multiple heart attacks within 18 months. Writing about my experiences made me curious; it provided me with an invaluable way to explore my thoughts, feelings and emotions, helped me to make sense of the tumult and confusion going on inside my head and provided an essential outlet for me.
3 Helps your injuries heal faster
A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine showed that patients who suffered a biopsy wound healed 4.4 times faster after journalling about their thoughts, feelings and emotions arising from the event. One of the key reasons for this is that journalling lowers your cortisol levels( a stress hormone), thereby allowing you to heal quicker.
Journalling gives you an ideal way of exploring and expressing your emotions - helping you to understand conflicting and confusing emotions that you might be feeling.
4 Improves your Emotional Intelligence
A key requirement for developing resilience is the need to develop some form of emotional intelligence - the ability to understand and differentiate your feelings and emotions. This in turn improves your intuition; and hence will help prevent you from making rash decisions, over reacting to events. It also helps you provide clearer thinking and provides you with perspective.
Consequently, this will help you make better decisions and lead to a happier life. Journalling is a great way of achieving this; and the more often you are able to do so, the easier and more skilled you will become and learn to differentiate the wide spectrum of emotions and feelings.
5 Helps you sleep better
It's not controversial to say that better sleep is essential for your health and wellbeing. One of the main causes of sleeplessness and disturbed sleep arises from unprocessed events that have occurred during the day - we go to bed with a myriad of jumbled feelings swirling in our heads. Again, studies show that those who journal, especially before bed fall asleep significantly quicker than those who did not.
As Michael Breus PhD sleep specialist says;
"In my experience, a worry journal is best done after dinner since it can involve bringing up emotional topics, which you do not really want to think about before bed"
Writing helps bring some form of closure to unresolved or difficult events arising during the day. Journalling helps to make sense of those events, and leads to calmness, knowing that you have dealt with the events from the day.
How to Journal
As I said earlier, there are no cast-iron rules for journalling - trial and error is the best learning to see what works for you. Some key considerations are:
Find a quiet, private place to journal. It's much easier to journal when you know you won't be disturbed or distracted.
Set a regular time to journal. I find it most helpful to do it in the evening, but there are some people who prefer to journal in the mornings.
Pen and paper or App? Personally, I get a lot of pleasure from using a fountain pen and writing in a notebook just for journalling. Putting pen to paper is a fabulous feeling and just letting the pen write is also magical. The main picture is of my journalling! However, it's not the only way to journal and there are plenty of apps you can download for journalling.
You don't have to write in sentences - journalling is an opportunity for you to be creative and express yourself. If you prefer, you can write in verse too if you are creative or use sketches and pictures.
Topics for journalling can vary hugely. As well as writing about the day's events, journalling can also include any topic you would like to write about including;
just write a stream of your immediate thoughts and feelings
issues that are troubling you or puzzling you
write about happy and memorable events
things that you are grateful for
I should have mentioned that one of the greatest attractions of journalling compared to other forms of therapy is that it's FREE! The only cost is time and even that is very limited.
From my own experiences, journalling has proved to be invaluable. It provides me with a daily method of self-reflection and analysis but it also brings me joy - journalling can also be seen as artistic and can be very creative. It definitely had a significant beneficial impact on my life- hence why I'm so keen to share it with you!
I would love to know your thoughts on journalling and how you journal - are you a fan of pen and paper or do you use an app? Wonder how many of you write in verse or draw? What changes have you noted since you started journalling?
Please email me at info@XtraClarity.com. I look forward to hearing from you.