Write it Down – The Benefits of Keeping a Journal
Written by Kim McLaughlin
Oscar Wilde once said, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”
Now, I am not a playwright and I’m positive that if someone picked up one of my journals they would not describe it as “sensational reading”. Nevertheless, I have kept a journal for as long as I can remember and will continue to keep a journal well into the future. In fact, it’s something that everyone should do. The mental and physical health benefits of journaling have been explored in a number of research studies over the past few decades.
According to James Pennebaker, a University of Texas at Austin psychologist, studies have shown that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. The mental health benefits of journaling include stress relief, self-reflection, clarity and organization in life, and it can serve as a mood booster.
The best part about journaling is that it’s personal. It can be whatever you want it to be. When something stressful is going on in your life and you need a cathartic release, writing down your thoughts and feelings can be extremely beneficial. It can help people process and break down complex experiences and deal with them in a safe, judgement-free zone.
Journaling can also be a way to keep track of accomplishments in life and awards earned. It can serve as a way to keep track of moments you want to remember or mistakes you should learn from. Keeping a physical record of your accomplishments and awards can help to justify a raise or promotion at work. At the very least, a review of these things every now and then can help boost your self-esteem and/or your mood or make you aware of patterns in your actions and behaviors that you might not have noticed otherwise.
If you don’t feel the need to write down feelings and emotions, that’s fine too. Journaling can be a great way to simply build better habits. Keeping a food journal can help you identify areas where your eating might be off balance. Perhaps you need to add more fat or carbs to your diet to boost your energy and your mood. An easy way to figure this out is to visualize your current nutritional intake. Write it all down.
Journaling can be a way to brainstorm the next great idea, free-write, keep a daily list of things you are thankful for, write down your dreams and goals and how you are going to accomplish them, or explore your artistic side through drawing and pictures. The options for what you can do with a journal are endless. Regardless of how you choose to use it, however, the benefits are undeniable. A pen and a piece of paper can be a powerful life tool. Make sure it’s part of your healthy lifestyle.
Pennebaker, James W. “Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process.” Psychological science 8.3 (1997): 162-166. http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/000721