Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Journal
They are healthier than the rest of us — and not just mentally. Documenting thoughts and feelings in writing, whether it's in a leather Moleskine or on a computer screen, has enormous benefits for our physical health.
These benefits include long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. Not only does writing make you less likely to get sick, it also increases chances of fighting specific diseases like asthma, AIDS and cancer.
It can even make physical wounds heal faster. A study from 2013 found that 76% of adults who spent 20 minutes writing about their thoughts and feelings for three consecutive days two weeks before a medically necessary biopsy were fully healed 11 days later. Meanwhile, 58% of the control group had not recovered.
The study concluded that even one hour of writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress.
Journaling is among the most beneficial kinds of writing. One 2005 study found that the kind of "expressive writing" often connected with journaling is especially therapeutic. The study found that participants who wrote about traumatic, stressful or emotional events were significantly less likely to get sick, and were ultimately less seriously affected by trauma, than their non-journaling counterparts.
It doesn't take a big time commitment to reap the benefits of journaling. Expressive writing for 15 to 20 minutes a day three to five times over the course of a four-month period was enough to lower blood pressure and have better liver functionality.
James W. Pennebaker, a lead researcher on expressive writing at the University of Texas at Austin, has found that when we translate an experience or secret into language by writing it down, we essentially make the experience graspable.
"Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives," Pennebaker has been quoted as saying. "You don't just lose a job, you don't just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are — our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves. ... Writing helps us focus and organize the experience."
The best way to cope with an up-and-down relationship or breakup is to turn to your journal. While some may consider it overanalyzing, studies have shown that ruminating on a past relationship actually speeds up emotional recovery and helps build a stronger sense of self-identity following a breakup.
While thinking about or talking through your emotions with friends can help, the act of writing itself causes the most health benefits.
"Writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational," Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert, told Fast Company. "While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to do what it does best, i.e. create, intuit and feel. In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us."
Physical pen-on-paper writing is especially effective in activating the "reticular activating system" region of the brain that filters and focuses information. But don't worry, bloggers: Studies have shown that blogging triggers dopamine release, a chemical that helps regulate emotional responses and improve mood.
The benefits of journaling are long-term. Not only will journaling help you recover from an experience in the moment, but it will also prepare you to face future similar scenarios.
"Journal therapy is all about using personal material as a way of documenting an experience, and learning more about yourself in the process," Kathleen Adams, a psychotherapist and author of Journal to the Self, told the Huffington Post. "It lets us say what's on our minds and helps us get — and stay — healthy through listening to our inner desires and needs."
You learn about yourself through the process of writing down your feelings and experiences. Knowing yourself better is the best way to improve future relationships.
So the next time you fall behind on a TV show or can't keep track of the Facebook gossip because you're too busy journaling: Don't worry. Picking up the pen and putting your thoughts down on paper is the right move, according to science.