Can writing down our thoughts and feelings really benefit our mental health?
Many studies show how journaling can help to improve wellbeing. Yet there are lots of people who are opposed to the idea of writing down their thoughts and feelings.
There is undoubtedly a sense of vulnerability attached to revealing our innermost secrets, even if we know that nobody else will read them. But with the mounting research showing how much mindful journaling can benefit our mental health, is it time to transcend those fears and invest in some pretty notebooks and new pens?
Why is Journaling so Beneficial for Mental Wellbeing?
When you feel emotions such as sadness, guilt, or anger, it can sometimes be difficult to process your thoughts, and you may even take the scenario out of all proportion. By writing about what happened and how you feel about it, you are coherently summarising the events, and therapeutically processing your thoughts and emotions.
Professor James Pennebaker, the head of the Psychology Department at the University of Texas, advocates writing as a healing tool. Pennebaker believes that writing can act as a release for any negative thoughts or emotions that may be bothering us. Putting these feelings and issues down on paper serves as a way for them to escape the mind, thus providing relief.
According to Pennebaker, there is an aspect of writing that allows us to see our lives from a distance. In the same way that we can easily advise others, by assessing the situation from afar, we can do the same for ourselves.
Others, such as Human Resources professional Tasha Westerman, find that journaling to themselves alone may feel useless or meaningless. Instead, Westerman prefers blogging to an audience. The studies behind this show that by sharing your story and explaining how you overcame obstacles, you feel a sense of purpose because you are helping others who are facing similar circumstances.
Journaling provides another fantastic benefit; it helps you to validate your decisions and reasoning. This validation can prove extremely helpful, as when you go back to read your words, you see the reasons why you made the decisions that you did.
Freewriting for Stress Management
Other proponents of writing as a healing tool advocate 'freewriting.' This is a practice where you sit for a pre-determined amount of time (usually 10 minutes or more) and start writing whatever comes to your head without stopping or letting your pen leave the paper.
The idea behind this technique is that you get to see what you are subconsciously thinking about, even if you might not have a specific event worrying you. Freewriting is an excellent stress management tool because you are processing your thoughts and releasing negative feelings before they have a chance to escalate into an overwhelming situation. Prevention is better than cure, as they say.
Final Thoughts About Journaling for Mental Wellbeing
Ultimately, we are all looking for simple ways to improve our wellbeing and manage stress. If you have not yet tried journaling for yourself, you may be surprised at the results you experience. Journaling is inexpensive and thought by many to be transformational and self-illuminating, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try.