Journaling 101: Therapeutic Writing and Drawing Guide
Journaling is more than just a method for unpacking thoughts, feelings, and desires; it can also be a powerful wellness tool. Here are some of the potential health benefits of writing.
Cornelia Gibson, EdD, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Agape Counseling Center and Network in Fairfield, Calif., recommends journaling for anxiety patients. “Anxiety is usually tied to thoughts, so what we want to do is externalize those thoughts or get them out of our heads,” she says. “We’re not getting rid of the problem, but transferring it to paper so people can recognize it.”
That said, it also pays to write about happy things.
In a study published in the October-December 2018 issue of JMIR Mental Health, adults with anxiety and other medical conditions who wrote about positive experiences saw their well-being improve more than those who received usual care. Logging took place for 15 minutes three days a week for 12 weeks. As there is no standard treatment for patients with mild to moderate anxiety symptoms, the control group simply received the usual care for their medical conditions during the study.
Expressive writing, or writing down your thoughts and feelings as they come, can help boost your memory.
Research with college students found that those who wrote about negative personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings about entering college had greater working memory gains than those who wrote about positive experiences. or trivial thoughts. The researchers hypothesized that writing down stressful thoughts and experiences encouraged students to confront them, instead of keeping those thoughts and experiences hidden in their brains. This may have freed up space in the students’ working memory, the researchers argued.
However, the groups studied were relatively small. Larger studies are needed to confirm these results.
It’s not uncommon for unwanted thoughts and worries to keep you up at night, but journaling can help ease your mind and pave the way for better rest.
In one study, poor sleepers were divided into three groups: a problem group wrote about worries and concerns, a hobby group recorded interests, and a control group did not write at all. Both writing groups recorded their thoughts over three nights and reported their sleep patterns. The Problems group reported falling asleep faster than the Hobby or Control groups, which may suggest that writing about the stress we experience during the day can help us deal with it. Using this technique, researchers say, these thoughts and worries can subside, allowing us to relax and fall asleep.
However, this study has limitations. Not only was it small (just 42 subjects), but people self-reported their sleep patterns, which means researchers can’t verify the accuracy of these reports.
Improves immune health
Putting pen to paper can boost your immune system.
In one study, researchers asked some medical students to write about traumatic experiences, while others wrote about daily events and four-day plans. After the trial period, all students received the hepatitis B vaccine and two booster shots. Blood tests revealed that students who wrote about negative experiences had higher levels of antibodies (proteins created by the immune system when it detects harmful substances) just before and two months after the last dose than those who wrote about neutral experiences.
Another study found that the mental effects of journaling can also help once you’re infected with a virus. Some students who tested positive for Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes mononucleosis (with symptoms including extreme fatigue and swollen glands), wrote about stressful events three times a week for 20 minutes, while others wrote about their possessions. Students who wrote about stress had higher levels of antibodies in their blood compared to students who wrote about possessions.
According Greatest Good Magazine from the University of California at Berkeley, holding back negative thoughts and experiences is harmful to our health. Writing, drawing, and other forms of journaling can help release negativity from our brain so that we don’t dwell on it.