The Positive Benefits of Journaling
Wondering what all the fuss is about journaling? What do you gain from journaling?
Research shows that journaling can improve both your mental and physical health―when it follows some simple rules. It's not about just recounting the facts of your life story. That kind of journaling doesn't provide the health pluses. You have to go deeper.
Journaling can help you digest the past, process the present, and plan for the future.
It can decrease negative emotions and increase positive ones.
Through my own experiences using journaling to improve my life, studying the research done by others to uncover the writing prompts that are the most useful, and decades of helping clients process pain and increase happiness, I've developed a series of "Silver Lining Journals and Workbooks."
I'll tell you more about my journals and workbooks later, but first, I'll pass on a bunch of what I've learned about journaling and answer the questions: What are some of the short- and long-term benefits of putting pen to paper? and How can we use writing to increase mental health and even physical health?
What's In This Post
|The Benefits of Reflective Journaling for Self-Care Quotes|
|Scientific Benefits of Journaling|
|The Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Management|
|Therapeutic Writing: Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Management Workbooks and Journals|
|What are the Physical Health Benefits of Journaling?|
|Research-Based Therapeutic Expressive Writing Prompts|
|Journaling Help: Silver Lining Journals, Workbooks, and Planners|
|References for Benefits of Journaling, Best Journaling Techniques, Therapeutic Journal Prompts, Journal Writing Ideas, and How to Journal for Mental Health|
The Benefits of Reflective Journaling for Self-Care Quotes
What is the meaning and importance of journal writing?
There are lots of answers to that question that I'll touch on throughout this article, but for starters, one purpose of journal writing is getting to know yourself better. Journals can be a place to process your thoughts and feelings.
I came across so many great quotes about using journaling for increased self-awareness and processing through your mental and emotional stuff.
Here's some of what the journaling experts and proponents say about using journaling for self-reflection:
"What’s All This About Journaling? One of the more effective acts of self-care is also, happily, one of the cheapest." – Hayley Phelan (NY Times article about her personal experience with journaling)
"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn." – Anne Frank
"Journaling is like whispering to one’s self and listening at the same time." – Mina Murray
"Journaling is paying attention to the inside for the purpose of living well from the inside out." – Lee Wise
"Journal writing is a voyage to the interior." – Christina Baldwin
"Write hard and clear about what hurts." – Ernest Hemingway
"A personal journal is an ideal environment in which to 'become'. It is a perfect place for you to think, feel, discover, expand, remember, and dream." – Brad Wilcox
Scientific Benefits of Journaling
In the 1980’s, journaling research pioneer, James W. Pennebaker, found that people’s physical health and mental health both improved after they wrote about stressful situations. (But only if the journaling included 3 key components─thoughts, feelings, and insights. I'll talk more about these later in this article.)
“As the number of studies increased, it became clear that writing was a far more powerful tool for healing than anyone ever imagined.”
—James W. Pennebaker
What are Some of the Scientific Benefits of Journaling?
Research projects into the benefits of journaling include those that showed:
- reduced depression in women recovering from domestic violence
- improved long-term general physical and mental health
- reduced anxiety and stress in Multiple Sclerosis patients
- reduced depression related to intrusive thoughts
- greater recognition of positive benefits from stressful or traumatic experiences (when the journaling included both thoughts and feelings)
- improved quality of life among Chinese breast cancer patients
The studies listed above are a few of those that researched the benefits of journaling.
I'll talk about more studies throughout this article.
The Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Management
Journaling can help you make sense out of the world and your experiences.
It can increase your happiness and reduce your stress.
“Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate antidote to injury. It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change.” - Julia Cameron
What are the Mental Health Benefits of Journaling?
Research on expressive writing shows that journaling has the potential of:
clearing your mind
stopping negative thoughts rumination
releasing painful emotions
increasing feel-good emotions
enhancing your sense of well-being
processing current and past difficulties, challenges, and traumas
helping make sense of life experiences
building emotional intelligence
revealing negative experiences' benefits or silver lining
giving direction for the future
Therapeutic Writing: Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Management Workbooks and Journals
I created the Learn, Let Go, Lighten Up: Silver Lining Emotional Detox Journal & Workbook to help you process emotional pain and discomfort; and the Becoming Calm: Silver Lining Reduce Anxiety and Increase Stress Resilience Workbook and Journal as a step-by-step guide for learning how to deal better with stress and a provide a place for processing your anxiety.
What are the Physical Health Benefits of Journaling?
While the psychological and emotional benefits of journaling may easily make sense to you, it may be more surprising to learn that research shows that journaling even improves journalers' physical health.
Powerful Health Benefits of Journaling
Australian researchers, Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, offered this list of positive physical health outcomes revealed through their examination of journaling studies done by others (1):
fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
improved immune system functioning
reduced blood pressure
improved lung function
improved liver function
fewer days in the hospital
improved sporting performance
improved working memory
less missed work days
higher student grades
These physical improvements seem to be a positive side-effect of journaling's psychological and emotional benefits: relieving your stress, clearing your mind of cobwebs, and lifting your mood.
Research-Based Therapeutic Expressive Writing Prompts
Are you wondering how to use writing to increase mental health?
The mental and physical journaling benefits mentioned in the lists above aren't connected to just any form of journaling. There are 3 key components to journaling that provide the most benefit.
James W. Pennebaker found that people’s physical and mental health improved after they wrote about stressful situations, but only if the writing included their emotions. Study participants who wrote about stressful events but did not include their emotional experience did not experience improved health. (2)
Subsequent studies by Pennebaker and other researchers, such as Susan Lutgendorf, support that the mere recounting of facts related to stressful events isn’t as helpful as journaling that includes these 3 key components:
- thoughts, and
When all three components are present in the journaling, the writers tend to improve physically and psychologically (less illness, less stress, less depression, better grades . . .). (3-8)
My experiences from a lifetime of dealing with my own traumas and challenges, and helping lots of my counseling clients deal with theirs, leads me to the same conclusions as these researchers.
Journaling Help: Silver Lining Journals, Workbooks, and Planners
I love journals, workbooks, and planners for their high value in making people's lives better. They are an inexpensive way to add tools to your mental health toolbox.
These 3 key journaling components listed above have informed the creation of my journals and workbooks. All of my journals and workbooks are designed with prompts to help you process your emotions, thoughts, and insights.
I have published several of these types of books and plan to keep adding to the collection.
Here are some of my offerings:
References for Benefits of Journaling, Best Journaling Techniques, Therapeutic Journal Prompts, Journal Writing Ideas, and How to Journal for Mental Health
(1) Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338
(2) Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 274–281. doi:10.1037//0021-843x.95.3.274
(3) Lepore, S. J., & Smyth, J. M. (Eds.). (2002). The writing cure: How expressive writing promotes health and emotional well-being. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
(4) Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162–166. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.1997.tb00403.x
(5) Pennebaker, J. W., Mayne, T. J., & Francis, M. E. (1997a). Linguistic predictors of adaptive bereavement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(4), 863–871. doi:10.1037//0022-3522.214.171.1243
(6) Smyth, J. M. (1998). Written emotional expression: Effect sizes, outcome types, and moderating variables. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66(1), 174–184. doi:10.1037//0022-006x.66.1.174
(7) Smyth, J. M., Stone, A. A., Hurewitz, A., & Kaell, A. (1999). Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom reduction in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. JAMA, 281(14), 1304. doi:10.1001/jama.281.14.1304
(8) Ullrich, P. M., & Lutgendorf, S. K. (2002). Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24(3), 244–250. doi:10.1207/s15324796abm2403_10
- Ann Silvers