What if the key that could unlock weight loss, improved health and happier moods was within your grasp all the time? What if that key looked like…a pencil?
There’s mounting evidence that writing is good for you, body, mind and spirit. From researchers studying the mental health benefits of journaling to those assessing improvements in the immune system after expressive writing, writing about what ails you may be the key that unlocks better health.
The History of Journaling
Journaling, or writing a daily, private log of personal thoughts and experiences, is an ancient art form dating back to ancient Rome and Asia. The oldest known example of a diary is the writings of Marcus Aurelius in 2nd century A.D. However, writers from Japan and China also kept journals or diaries, and by the 10th and 11th centuries, Arabian writers were also penning their thoughts. Keeping a daily journal or diary remained the purview of the upper classes, however, as learning to read and write, as well as affording writing instruments and paper were reserved for the wealthy in society. Later on, British writer Samuel Pepys would publish the first personal diary, and as the centuries passed into the modern era, the art of journal writing as a personal pursuit was born. Perhaps the most famous diary of all time is The Diary of Anne Frank, written by a young girl hiding from the Nazis during World War II.
Journaling for Health and Wellness
Your diary needn’t be a chronicle of your daily business appointments or an excruciatingly detailed account of something as dramatic as Anne Frank’s story to be effective. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment provides a detailed analysis of how writing about stressful or traumatic events affects individuals. Dr. James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin, for example, studied students writing about traumatic incidences. According to Pennebaker and fellow researcher Beall, “Writing about earlier traumatic experience was associated with both short-term increases in physiological arousal and long-term decreases in health problems.” In other words, it made people feel bad in the short term as they relived the incidents while writing about it, but in the long run, they experienced a decrease in health problems.
According to Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, the long-term effects of expressive writing include:
- Improved lung and liver function
- Decreased blood pressure
- Improved immune system responses
- Improved mood
- And many other benefits
How You Can Benefit from Journal Writing
While journaling may be incorporated into traditional recovery or therapy sessions, it may also be done on its own. It cannot replace a qualified therapist, so please seek professional advice for any mental, physical or other issues.
If you’d like to try journaling on your own as a personal, expressive practice, you can start today. The best thing about journaling is that it’s very inexpensive. All you need it a notebook, a pen or a pencil, and you’re off and writing.
How should you begin keeping your journal? Try to write for 20 to 30 minutes a day, for at least three to four consecutive days. This is the time period studied by Dr. Pennebaker. You can begin writing about your daily life, or write about something that is bothering you. Keep your journal private, and write by hand; there is something about putting pen to paper that seems to help express emotions more easily than typing at a computer keyboard.
There are many books of journal writing prompts for those looking for creative springboards. The Center for Journal Therapy offers a short, free course on their website to help you start your journal writing adventure.
Expressing yourself, whether through writing, music, dance or visual arts can relieve anxiety, improve mood and offer an effective creative outlet for emotions. Journal writing may be a great way to assuage anger; in the safety of your notebook, you can write all the angry thoughts swirling around your head when you’re really upset. You can soothe yourself by writing your sorrows down instead of reaching for a cigarette, drink or donut; you can express joy with creativity, sorrow with your pen. Journal writing may be the key that unlocks the new you.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.