Writing It All Down: Enjoying the Benefits of Journaling
What if we told you that picking up a pen and paper, or opening a Word document on your laptop and typing for a bit, could be good for your health? Research has shown that taking as few as twenty minutes every day to journal about your thoughts and feelings can improve your attitude, your emotional resilience and your health.
*Research conducted by State University of New York at Stoneybrook demonstrated that writing about an anxiety-causing experience could reduce physical symptoms in patients with chronic diseases. Subjects were asked to write for 20 minutes every day, for three days in a row. Among those who expressed their anxiety in their writing, 50% showed a large improvement in their disease after only four months.
The only caveat is that you have to be willing to write authentically about your true thoughts and feelings. Since journals are traditionally private, that’s usually not too difficult to do. And it could be well worth the effort to dig deep.
**Researchers at the University of Texas and North Dakota State University discovered that people who wrote about their emotions and thoughts surrounding upsetting events have stronger immune systems and half as many doctors’ office visits as those who wrote about trivial events.
What should you be writing? You could write about your daily activities, with an emphasis on how you feel about them, or perhaps, you could analyze the dream you had last night. There are so many options, though here are a few thought starters that may be helpful:
List of Accomplishments for the Day: When you’re anxious about incontinence, it’s easy to end up feeling helpless and hopeless. Appreciating all of the small accomplishments that make up your day can lift your spirits. What if you took a few minutes before you went to bed and made a list of all of your daily accomplishments? Anything from running errands and getting groceries to paying the bills and researching new protection options can be considered an accomplishment, so recognize yourself for the efforts you made throughout the last 24 hours.
Analysis of a Troubling Situation: If you’ve had something happen that was upsetting to you, consider writing about it in detail. Ask yourself, what really happened? What are the facts? What are the emotions that it caused? Were other people involved? If you were in their shoes, what might you be thinking? Describing something in detail, even to yourself, can help you understand it and ease the emotional pain around it.
For example, let’s say you had a leaking incident. Your pants got a bit wet and you had to change your clothes at work. You could write about:
• What happened – Share the facts, in detail
• How did you feel about it?
• What did you do?
• Could you have done anything differently for better results?
• Did anyone else witness the incident? If so, what would you be thinking if you were in their shoes?
• Do you think anyone else has ever experienced something similar? If so, what would you think if you were witnessing it happen?
• What could you do, in the future, to avoid a similar incident?
• How can you let go of the negative feelings (anxiety, sadness) that you may be holding onto about this incident?
An exercise like this one can give you valuable perspective, as well as taking the emotional charge out of the experience.
Ask Yourself “What Do I Really Want and How Can I Achieve It?” This exercise can motivate you to make positive changes. Think about something in your life that doesn’t feel like it’s working, then ask yourself:• What do I really want out of this circumstance?• Are there any positive actions – even small ones – I can take to move in the direction I’d like things to go?• What would those actions be?• By when will I start taking those actions?• Are there people I can turn to for support? Who are they and by when will I ask them for their support? • What is the end result I’d like to achieve?
Consider starting a journaling practice if you’d like to see how it could positively impact your physical and emotional health. Think through the details and write down your thoughts and feelings out without censoring. Whether you use a pen and paper or an electronic program or document, processing your thoughts and feelings through your words may be beneficial.
What about you? Have you ever tried journaling? If so, did you see any specific benefits?
*Research conducted by Joshua M. Smyth at the State University of New York at Stoneybrook showed that writing about a stressful experience reduces physical symptoms in patients with chronic illnesses.
**Research conducted by James W. Pennebaker, M.D., professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and Joshua M. Smyth, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at North Dakota State University