Journaling: Good for Mental Health

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They say everyone has a novel inside of them, but few take the time to pen their life story. However, it’s accepted by the mental health community that writing about life experiences can have a therapeutic impact.

Many therapists urge their clients or patients to use the creative arts, especially writing, as a part of their healing process. It can be as complex as writing about traumatic experiences with the support of mental health professionals or as simple as reflecting on the day.

“Writing, in general, allows us to externalize and put something in a different place rather than keeping it internal. It’s expressive and creative and uses a lot of our right brain while calling on the left side of our brain as we organize and track our words,” noted Terri Clinton Dichiser, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. “Trauma has an effect on both brain and body, and with therapy, we hope to intervene in both. Trauma has intense fear associated with it, and any time we’re alone with fear that’s bad. Writing helps us to bring that fear out. If dealing with trauma, having a mental health professional assist while we write is often helpful.”

Psychology Today says over the past few decades writing has been discovered to be an amazing tool in helping individuals deal with intense emotional issues. It can help decrease distress, improve negative mood and decrease physical symptoms. It can help the writer come to terms with stressful events and reduce their impact on physical and mental health.

“When we’re able to put our emotions into words and be specific with them and describe them as our being angry or upset, we’re less likely to use negative self-regulation strategies such as being more aggressive with people, excessive drinking and other negative strategies,” advised Terri. “Research shows that when people can engage in writing they can have less anxiety and depression.”
Many are employing the technique of journaling to reduce stress in their lives or more deeply explore their feelings and thoughts. Some use computers to capture their reflections while others call upon pen and paper. Experts say daily writing is recommended for the most impact, but it’s not required. Through writing, authors collect thoughts and feelings to better grasp their actions. Sometimes jotting down items, which can be as simple as listing pros and cons, can lead a writer through problem-solving exercises. Journaling about traumatic events aids in managing them by discovering and freeing emotions involved.

“Life moves so fast we don’t have the time or a way to process what we’re experiencing. As a result, we suppress it; then it’s repeated in our minds over and over. By putting a story around our experiences, it brings the pieces together and allows them to stop coming up again and again. Even writing for five minutes can be a significant tool,” shared Terri. “Many times therapists will start with gratitude journals, which allow us to have an experience of a different process in our brains and experience gratitude and thankfulness. We enjoy new emotions such as joy and happiness.”
Gratitude journals allow the writer to record items that bring happiness such as family, friends and experiences. A common goal is to list at least three positive aspects occurring during the day. By focusing on the positive, you can reflect on the many good things happening in your life. A gratitude journal can help relieve stress because you focus on the positivity you already hold in your life, which can help create self-resilience. In addition, you have a list of good things you’ve enjoyed over time. When you’re feeling blue or stressed, you can reread these logs to uplift your spirits as a remembrance of the good things you possess.

Other journaling techniques include one focused on emotional release in which you write about events as a way of coping with stress. You process feelings and try to positively reframe the experience. Journaling can be as simple as keeping a log of things to do for the next day or long-term goals to accomplish. This keeps the writer focused on achievement rather than being overwhelmed.

“Journaling puts feelings into words and serves as a regulatory function. Writing allows us to make emotions concrete, a reflection as we chart them and make sense of them,” stated Terri. “As human beings, to deal with our emotions, we often fall into camps of either suppression or they’re out of control and overwhelming. Writing can assist us in dealing with and regulating our emotions.”

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of sorts, consider writing, in particular, journaling, as a way to help you sort out your spirits and manage your stress. You may not pen the next best-seller, but you may find a better way to cope with issues or feel better about what life brings your way. ■