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Write Your Way Happy

By Karisa Ding | April 22, 2015 | Rally Health

Why should I keep a journal?

Many of us go through the day with an anxious soundtrack running through our heads: "My presentation isn’t done. Why are my kids' grades falling? I really need to do the laundry."

These thoughts can trigger emotions that build up and turn you into a ball of stress. Journaling, or "expressive writing," can help you work through vague worries and give you a better handle on what's really going on in your life.

Writing is therapeutic because once you see things in black and white, you can prioritize, address your fears and concerns, solve problems more effectively, and hopefully, relax. Putting your thoughts on paper can also give you a creative outlet and help you find meaning in daily experiences.

How journaling can help your health

While a pen isn't mightier than a treadmill, experts believe that journaling can help you get physically healthier. People who keep journals tend to have lower blood pressure, improved lung and liver function, sharper memory, and fewer missed days at work…in other words, better overall health.

They aren't sure exactly how or why this works. One school of thought is that journaling helps you better confront, process, and cope with stressful events and memories, which can lessen the impact of that stress on your body.

In one study, researchers asked a group of kidney cancer patients to complete four 20-minute writing sessions in which they described their deepest thoughts and feelings about their illness. Ten months later, their physical functions such as walking, lifting, and bending had improved, and they had fewer cancer-related symptoms compared with cancer patients who only wrote about neutral topics.

Journaling might boost the immune system as well. In another study, researchers asked university students to complete three sessions of writing and thinking about a traumatic or emotional event. After that, they noted an increase in the number of T cells in their blood, a key part of how the immune system fights off infections.

Tips on journaling

  • Try to write every day, even if it’s just one line. Once you stop, it’s harder to get back in the habit.
  • Ideally, put aside 15 to 20 minutes to think about your day. Late evening can be a good time. Create a routine you’ll look forward to, like having a cup of favorite tea or listening to music.
  • You can write in a simple notebook, on your computer, or in a fancy leather-bound journal. Anything goes!
  • Write freely and without restraint. Let your internal world spill out. Don't worry about grammar, sentence structure, or spelling.
  • If you're writing about something unpleasant or upsetting, try to think about the reason behind it. Just describing the negative event without thinking about context or meaning might make you feel worse. For example, rather than writing, "My sister forgot that we were supposed to celebrate my birthday at lunch today. It totally ruined my day," take a moment and think things through. Instead, you might say, "Jenna forgot about my birthday lunch. I was mad, but now I think it was an honest mistake – maybe it's because she's overwhelmed at her new job and her baby hasn't been sleeping well.” Then, try to let it go.

Just remember to have fun. Happy journaling!

 

Selected references

Lewis J. Turning Trauma Into Story: the Benefits of Journaling. Psychology Today Blog. August 17, 2012.

Karisa Ding
Rally Health