Mindpath Health’s Leela Magavi, M.D. helps discuss the benefits journaling can have.
Journaling Can Help Boost Immune Function
This may come as a surprise, but journaling has also been proven to improve overall immune function and decrease your risk of illness. As researchers Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm report, those who journal for 20 minutes per day on 3-5 occasions saw the following benefits:
- Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
- Improved immune system functioning
- Reduced blood pressure
- Improved lung function
- Improved liver function
Journaling allows a person to develop what’s called a “coherent narrative” of their life. In other words, it enables a person to take the events they experience and integrate them into their overall perspective on life.
This, in turn, enables a person to think more positively about their lives and create a holistic picture of themselves in relation to the rest of the world. It follows that a person with a positive, holistic view of themselves is less prone to things like depression and anxiety, both of which can cause a variety of physical health problems.
Keeping a Journal Can Improve Memory Function
When you journal, you are both recording and processing the events of a particular time period. As you do this, you are remembering and reflecting upon the details of the events, which then helps you retain those memories for a significantly longer amount of time.
Additionally, journaling allows you to analyze past events for patterns. As you look at your journal over time, you may begin to see particular patterns emerge, whether in your own behavior or in the behavior of others. Once you spot these patterns, you can respond appropriately.
Journaling Can Help with Recovery from Trauma
It has also been shown that journaling can help a person recover more quickly from traumatic events. Writing things down allows you to process what has occurred and see the good side of life, even when things are difficult. Journaling also allows you to directly confront the things you’ve experienced instead of avoiding them and not taking the time to process them.
If you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, journaling can enable you to effectively grieve in a manner that’s both healthy and healing. As you journal, you can take the necessary time to remember your loved one, process the loss, and begin to move forward.
Journaling for Depression and Anxiety
Numerous studies have shown that journaling can reduce overall levels of depression. A 2006 study by Stice, Burton, Bearman, & Rohde showed that writing in a journal can be as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy when it comes to reducing the risk of depression in young adults.
Studies have also shown that journaling can reduce the frequency of intrusive, depressive thoughts, help college students who are vulnerable to depression, and reduce overall levels of depression in those diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.
There are also benefits of journaling for anxiety symptoms. One study by Hasanzadeh, Khoshknab, & Norozi found that the simple act of journaling reduced anxiety in women who were suffering from multiple sclerosis. Another study found that journaling could help students effectively manage stress and anxiety, as well as improve overall classroom engagement.
Both depression and anxiety are often accompanied by negative thoughts. Journaling allows you to get these thoughts down on paper, process them in a more analytical, non-emotional way, and then respond appropriately to them.
Instead of simply letting negative thoughts run rampant in your mind, journaling for anxiety allows you to engage with your thoughts and determine whether they are true or false.
How to Journal to Reap the Most Benefits
- Make it a daily routine.
The benefits of journaling may be impressive, but to snag them you have to actually journal and ideally, daily. “Completing at least a short journal entry every single day is best,” says Leela R. Magavi, M.D., a psychiatrist and regional medical director for Mindpath Health.
Just remember: This doesn’t mean you should feel guilty or as if you failed by skipping a day… or three. Journaling is a way of honoring your emotional and mental needs and not journaling is a way of honoring those needs, too. If you’re not feeling it, no need to force it. One 2018 study even found that journaling as little as 15 minutes a day, three days a week can still help with anxiety and gives your brain a positive boost.
Journal prompts can help kick start your habit again and inspire your writing. If that doesn’t work, ask yourself a few exploratory questions to find the sticky point according to Cangilla:
- What makes me want to start journaling now?
- What excites me about journaling?
- What obstacles do I foresee to journaling regularly, and how might I address them?
- How does it feel to be journaling again?
- What can I do to make the process a better fit for me this time, so I’m more likely to stick with it?
- Put it in your schedule.
If you’re really committed to learning how to journal daily or maintaining your journaling routine, you might even set it as a recurring event in your Google calendar. Having it in your schedule along with everything else can help remind you that your journaling practice is an appointment worth keeping.
- Don’t stress about grammar.
Your journal is not the place to flex your punctuation proficiency. “It’s best to focus on getting the words down not fixating on grammar or punctuation,” says Dr. Magavi. Editing every typo and grammar blip can actually interfere with your ability to connect with yourself because it forces you to crawl out of your feelings and into the head. Most people find it easier to avoid editing when physically writing on paper, so if you’re guilty of proofreading your work when you’re typing, consider switching to a physical journal and pen, not a pencil, so you’re not tempted to go back, erase, and fix any mistakes.
- Ask yourself questions as you journal.
Sure, you can just word vomit onto your blank page — or you can take it a step further (and reap even more of the benefits of journaling) by asking yourself questions about what you’re feeling to get a clearer picture of the truth, says Cangilla. Think of it as interviewing yourself. In some instances, the answers could actually help you make decisions or determine changes you need to make.
- For some inspection, consider these questions:
- What outcome am I hoping for, exactly?
- What can I do to influence the outcome?
- What can I do to help myself accept this?
- How can I prepare for potential future obstacles?
- What excites me about this?
- How can I show myself care through this situation?
- Try a variety of journal formats.
Some people enjoy using journals replete with prompts. Others prefer using graph paper for bullet journaling. When you first dive into a journaling practice, try exploring different formats to figure out which is best for helping you navigate sticky emotions and situations
Writing a letter to yourself can be effective for some, while for others simple lists and messages are better,”. “Some individuals like to draw pictures linked to the content. No matter, the goal should be to keep your journal practice fluid, fun, and creative.”
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