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Write On! Journaling for Health
Posted: 2/6/2013 | Creativity Comments
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Listen, dear journal, I will tell you what I will tell no one else.
-Ella Gertrude Clanton


Psychologist James Pennebaker has studied the benefits of journaling for over 20 years, and believes journaling can help us be healthier, not just physically but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. His research found that journaling in a specific way caused long-term benefits including fewer visits to the doctor and reduced symptoms of infectious illness. Subjects reported fewer incidence of fever, cough, sore throat, swollen lymph glands and congestion. Blood tests revealed boosted immune response, including a sharp increase in T-lymphocytes, the blood cells that fight infection. His research also suggests improvements in patients with asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

The benefits extend well beyond the physical. Pennebaker also discovered higher grade point averages among college students who journaled, and higher reemployment rates among those who had lost their jobs. According to research by psychologists Phillip Ullrich and Susan Lutgendorf, University of Iowa, journaling results in “...better relationships, new possibilities for the future, greater personal strength, spiritual development, and greater appreciation for life.” In a sample of bereaved people, “Persons who engaged in deliberate, effortful thinking about the death were more likely to experience meaningful shifts in values, priorities or perspectives in response to the death.”
The type of journaling that benefits us most is much more than venting feelings or recording events. It must involve both our thinking and emotional processes. The two study groups that wrote either about neutral subjects with no emotional content, or strictly vented feelings experienced a drop in immune function.
As we write about a traumatic experience, for example, we not only express our feelings but our thinking creates a new story around it that helps us understand our situation and provides deeper meaning. Gradually, we work through the emotional intensity and discomfort and begin to make sense of it, giving our brains a way to store this information effectively.
We no longer need to ruminate about our problems or painful experiences, turning them over and over in our minds, but rather we let them go while releasing the associated anxiety and stress. When we move through feelings and thoughts we’ve been avoiding or repressing, we resolve the stress that negatively affects our health. Interestingly, studies show that it doesn’t matter if we’re writing about something we’ve talked about before, or if we’ve kept it a secret. This type of journaling is effective either way.
So, how can we journal in the most effective, health promoting way? Here’s a few simple ways to begin a journaling practice:
1.     Write daily, if you can, at least for a few days consecutively.
2.     Write quickly for 15 minutes without stopping.
3.     Don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Your writing is for your eyes only, and there’s no “right” way to do it.
4.     Write about anything you think, worry or dream about. It’s often helpful to continue writing about the same topic a few days in a row.
5.     Use positive emotional words when you can. Research shows that positive words have a stronger beneficial effect on the immune system.
6.     If the process becomes too uncomfortable, stop writing or change the topic. Sometimes you need the support of a psychotherapist to help you sort things out.
As you continue to write you’ll find the emotional intensity diminishes and your understanding grows. Chaotic events will become more meaningful to you. Writing will soon flow with practice, and you’ll see how it nurtures and heals you. Watch as your health, mood and relationships improve. You might find it becomes a sacred time in your day to connect with yourself.
What’s your experience with journaling? Have you seen physical and emotional benefits? Please leave a comment, as it makes a difference for all of us!
photo via Joel Montes



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