OLD journal therapy
“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.”
-Kathleen Adams, founder of the Center for Journal Therapy
Journaling is therapeutic, benefitting our mental, emotional, and in turn, our physical health. A journal is an excellent listener with infinite patience, letting us spill open and fill it with our thoughts and emotions, allowing us to see our lives, see ourselves with a little distance, enough distance to discern what is important and what is not. Over time, listening closely to our lives and ourselves gives us more power because we can see things clearly, see our lives, get our hand in the game, and make decisions based on what we are telling ourselves about what we need. Writing about our lives honors our thoughts and emotions simply because we are making time to be with and listen to ourselves.
In this way, journaling is like mothering—it is presence, it is love, it is compassion. And it is action.
For those who do not have access to therapy or other wellness resources, particularly at-risk adults and youth, students in under-served urban schools, victims of violence and abuse, veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and homeless adults and children, journaling is especially powerful because it is simple, affordable, accessible, and effective as a an artful means of healing and reducing stress.
Following is research-based information on the physical, mental, and emotional effects of journaling:
writing benefits physical health:
- Writing about emotional events in our lives increases our immune function. This may be because writing about emotional events in our lives helps relieve us of the physical, mental, and emotional stress of inhibiting emotions.
- Writing about our thoughts and feelings positively affects the autonomic nervous system, affecting heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate, among other visceral functions.
- Watershed research by Joshua Smythe, published in 1999 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed significant clinical improvement in people with rheumatoid arthritis and asthma four months after writing about an emotional upheaval or trauma that has occurred in their lives. These findings were lauded within the medical field because this was the first study to demonstrate that writing about stressful life experiences shows improvement by physician standards of disease severity in chronically ill patients. David Speigel, M.D. said: “Were the authors to have provided similar outcome evidence about a new drug, it likely would be in widespread use within a short time.”
writing benefits mental and emotional health:
- Writing about emotional topics significantly reduces stress.
- While writing about distressing events may be painful for some people initially, in the long term they feel an elevation in mood and a greater sense of wellbeing.
- Depression, rumination, and general anxiety tend to decrease in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals.
- Dr. James Pennebaker, pioneer of research on what he termed “expressive writing,” says that writing can be viewed as a form of “psychological preventative maintenance.”