“Writing about emotional upheavals in our lives can improve physical and mental health,” says James Pennebaker, Ph.D. Pennebaker, author of two books and more than 47 research studies correlating expressive writing and physiological/emotional healing, finds that journal writing results in fewer visits to primary care physicians, better adjustments to new settings, mood healing after surgery, and reduction of severe disease in chronically ill patients.
Yes, getting thoughts and feelings down on paper can be good for your health! However, as promising as journaling sounds, it can be daunting for some. Getting started is usually the biggest hurtle to jump. Here’s how.
Find what works for you. Kathleen Adams, pioneer in journal therapy, notes that “when people start getting results that work for them, they begin to buy into the process.” A variety of writing choices makes it possible for almost anyone to enjoy journaling. Adams writes in her book, The Way of the Journal: “In moments of ecstasy, in moments of despair the journal remains an impassive, silent friend, forever ready to coach, to confront, to critique, to console. Its potential as a tool for holistic mental health is unsurpassed.”
A variety of methods can be explored until you find the right fit. One technique might work for grief or depression while another technique works for problem solving.
- Complete a sentence. This method provides sentence prompts to get you started. Some prompts might be: “Right now I feel……………..” or “One answer to my problem would be…..” or “One thing I want to accomplish today is…..” Sentence stems are quick and easy and provide a gentle, non-threatening way for reluctant writers to begin keeping a journal.
- Write for five minutes. Limiting writing time can be less daunting than opening a blank page without a time limit. This form is good for trauma or shame-related issues. Journal how you’re feeling about a particular topic or situation in your life. You won’t necessarily finish in the five minute time allotment, but you can return to the topic another day. Writing on the same subject over time may reveal some patterns or open up feelings you were not aware of and that need to be flushed out of your system.
- Keep a list. This technique is good when you need to determine the pros and cons of a decision. It is especially helpful for the obsessive-compulsive person who likes structure. A list idea that can be helpful for those suffering from depression can be broken into three categories: “Three things I am thankful for today are ……; three things I feel good about are…; and three things I take pleasure in are….” This idea can be expanded to a longer list of “Twenty (or any number you choose) Things I Enjoy.” Lists can be used for any theme and can provide insight, as often repetitive entries will appear on the list.
- Start a community journal. This can be a fun way to involve your spouse or entire family, and can be a great way to problem-solve daily issues. Young children can draw pictures. One idea would be to have each member of the family take turns deciding on a topic to write about. For example, if journaling is done once a week, a topic might be “My favorite activity this week was….” or “The worst moment of my week was….” or “One thing I would like to do as a family is…..” Keep the journal in an accessible place, such as the kitchen counter or coffee table. Community journals can be springboards for effective communication which leads to better family health.
Follow through with journaling. Once you have experimented with a few forms of writing, stick with it! Decide on a time and place to write. Shoot for three to four times a week. If that is too much, try just one day a week. Whatever you decide, make your goal attainable for you. In his studies, Pennebaker discovered that writing 15-20 minutes a day for four consecutive days yielded physiological improvement, as in lower blood pressure. Thus, journaling can be good for your health!
For more information on journal therapy, log onto www.journaltherapy.com.