THE EFFECTS OF JOURNALING ON PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
When I was twenty-five years old, I found myself in a hostel in Queenstown, New Zealand, tossing and turning throughout the night. My brain would not shut off. It’s been nearly twenty years since that evening, so the details of what was rummaging through my young adult brain are fuzzy. But I can tell you, that like most other twenty-something girls, the subject was about boys. More specifically, two boys. This wasn’t just any love triangle. I had just bumped into my very first crush from when I was nine years old. I had crushed hard on him for a few summers at sleep away camp, palms sweaty any time I went near him, mouth dry the minute he would approach. If that weren’t bad enough, he was travelling with my very first kiss, who I dumped the following day citing ‘commitment issues’ at ten years of age. Like I said, not your typical romantic triangle. Hence, the tossing and turning. My mind would not shut off and I couldn’t sleep. I was at a loss.
At 3:30am, I finally decided to turn on the light and take out my journal. It was time to write, which is exactly what I did. For an hour. They were all the same words that were running through my mind, but now they were down on paper. It was like taking out the garbage, like purging your closet of clothes after ten years. It was cathartic, and immediately I felt better. The other interesting part was that seeing the words in front of me visually provided a different platform from which to view my experience, thoughts and feelings. And as I reread the contents of my entry, I thought to myself, ‘This is actually what you’re thinking about? You’re spending precious hours of sleep, worrying about boys? Seriously?!’ Clarity. I was asleep within minutes.
Journaling has been an ancient tradition dating back to 10th century Japan. Oscar Wilde, the 19th century playwright said, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” Writing is a valuable tool to manage stress. The art of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational, freeing up your right brain to create, intuit, and feel. As I mentioned earlier, it’s like a garbage dump, freeing up space to pause, breathe, create clarity, and peace. As a result, you can more effectively work though individual struggles as well as resolving conflict with others.
By spending just twenty minutes a day to jot down your thoughts, you can start to see your own thinking patterns and what is getting in your way of achieving your personal and professional goals. Dump out your thoughts and then try to respond by activating your rational brain. Ask yourself, ‘What would the rational part of my brain say to this?’ The negative thoughts can dominate, affecting our mood and emotional well-being. But if we can strengthen our rational, compassionate, and patient voice, we can work through our struggles more efficiently and effectively.
"Ask yourself, "What would the rational part of my brain say to this?"
Journaling has proven to have physical benefits as well. Research has shown that regularly writing down your thoughts can increase your chance of fighting specific diseases like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, AIDS, cancer and physical wounds faster than those who do not journal. A study in 2013 found that 76% of those who spent twenty minutes a day journaling for three days in a row before a scheduled biopsy were fully healed eleven days later. 58% of the control group had not yet recovered. Their conclusion being that writing one hour about a distressing event helped the participants to better understand the events and reduce stress levels.
Journaling helps us to focus and organize our experiences, thoughts and feelings. It speeds up emotional recovery by building a stronger sense of identity. It removes mental blocks and allows us to use more brainpower to better understand ourselves, others, and the world around us. And while it can help us with the challenging situation at hand, it can also help us to prepare for similar experiences in the future.
All you need is twenty minutes a day. Choose the same time every day to set yourself up for success. Put the journal on your nightstand and write as part of your bedtime routine. Dump out the experiences, thoughts and feelings of the day, so that you can get organized and settled on what it is you want and need. And maybe get a peaceful nights sleep too.
Lots of love!