The Positive Benefits of 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."
What's In This Post
|Mental Health Benefits of Journaling|
|Physical Health Benefits of Journaling|
|Research-Based Journaling Techniques for Processing Emotional Pain|
|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|
Mental Health Benefits of Journaling
Journaling can help you make sense out of the world and your experiences. It can increase your happiness and reduce your stress.
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
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.
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
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 Journaling Techniques for Processing Emotional Pain
“Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate antidote to injury.
It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change.”
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.
In the 1980’s, journaling research pioneer, James W. Pennebaker, found that people’s physical 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 physical 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.
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. 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//0022-3518.104.22.1683
(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