Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Journaling - A Healthy Habit

Does mention of the word “journaling” conjurers up images of old aunts, arty types and those awkward adolescent years? Or do you immediately think of work related activities such as diary entries and field notes – a necessary evil associated with keeping the boss happy? If you work in the human service sector or are a teacher or a nurse you will know what I mean.   

For me journaling is second nature.  Over the past 30 years I have kept the following journal:
  • Work journal when employed in the human services sector
  • Daily diary
  • Various Travel journals
  • Weight loss and food diary journal
  • Pregnancy journal
  • Family history report
  • And many more

 But for most people in today’s busy world, they only record what you must.  In an effort to change this habit/mindset I’d like to share some recent research on the health benefits of documenting our thoughts and feelings.   It has made me glad I take time out each day to journal – I may be able to skip the gym a couple of times a week and journal instead (hahaha).  

Physical and Emotional Health
James W. Pennebaker, a lead researcher on expressive writing at the University of Texas at Austin, has found that when we translate an experience or secret into language by writing it down, we essentially make the experience graspable. "Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives," Pennebaker has been quoted as saying. "You don't just lose a job, you don't just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are — our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves. ... Writing helps us focus and organize the experience."  Writing about these traumatic events/situations can uplift both your mind and body and alleviate the negative effects of stress on the body.

According to Pennebaker, it’s also been proven to strengthen the immune system’s cells. Not only does writing make you less likely to get sick, it also increases chances of fighting specific diseases like asthma, AIDS and cancer. 

It can even make physical wounds heal faster. A study from 2013 found that 76% of adults who spent 20 minutes writing about their thoughts and feelings for three consecutive days two weeks before a medically necessary biopsy were fully healed 11 days later. Meanwhile, 58% of the control group had not recovered. 
The study concluded that even one hour of writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress. Since starting this blog post I’ve become aware there's a Center for Journal Therapy dedicated to the mental health benefits of regular journaling, both in therapeutic and personal settings

Another 2005 study found that the kind of "expressive writing" often connected with journaling is especially therapeutic. The study found that participants who wrote about traumatic, stressful or emotional events were significantly less likely to get sick, and were ultimately less seriously affected by trauma, than their non-journaling counterparts. It doesn't take a big time commitment to reap the benefits of journaling. Expressive writing for 15 to 20 minutes a day three to five times over the course of a four-month period was enough to lower blood pressure and have better liver functionality. 

Studies have also shown that the emotional release from journaling lowers anxiety, stress, and induces better sleep.

If that hasn’t convinced you then you can find additional longer term benefits of expressive writing at http://www.amazon.com/Journals-Andre-Gide-Vintage-Book/dp/B000PGBVZC/?tag=braipick-20

Improves Language Skills – and improves the IQ
 A report by the University of Victoria noted that “Writing as part of language learning has a positive correlation with intelligence.” The report goes on to say, “One of the best single measures of overall intelligence as measured by intelligence tests is vocabulary.” Journal writing provides a safe place to experiment with new words and thus build our language skills.  In addition according to a Stanford report, “Writing has critical connections to speaking”.  That’s probably why teachers (part of curriculum)  now encourage students as young as 8 years old to journal.

According to neurologist and teacher, Judy  Willis, regular writing can help you learn to process and communicate complex ideas effectively. The practice of writing can enhance the brain's intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information. Through writing, students can increase their comfort with and success in understanding complex material, unfamiliar concepts, and subject-specific vocabulary. When writing is embedded throughout the curriculum, it promotes the brain's attentive focus to classwork and homework, boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain's highest cognition.

Harness Your Creativity – not just for arty types
Journaling is a great tool for unlocking creativity amongst anyone and everyone. In fact, this study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine used writing as a treatment for HIV patients found that writing resulted in “improvements of CD4+ lymphocyte counts.” That’s the fancy way of saying: the act of writing actually impacted the cells inside the patient’s body and improved their immune system. In other words, the process of journaling doesn’t just make you feel better, it also creates real, physical changes inside your body.

In our always–on, always–connected world of television, social media, and on–demand everything, it can be stupidly easy to spend your entire day consuming information and simply responding to all of the inputs that bombard your life.

Practical Benefits – Yes men can do it too
  •  Keeping a journal can serve to document your achievements (and mistakes)
  • Provides and account of your day (yes I did get that done)
  •  Keeps track of your goals and your progress towards achieving them
  • Allows you to pick out patterns of behaviour/thoughts
  •  Builds confidence as you look back over what you have achieved
  •  Strengthens self-discipline committing to writing in your journal daily
  • Writing about problems provides an opportunity to explore unexpected solutions and see   alternative viewpoints.
  • Get to know yourself better and provide future generations with an insight into you personally.

 Press the PAUSE button and “take a break” from all the incoming signals of the modern world. Open a blank document and start typing. Put pen to paper and write without thinking — “stream of consciousness” writing. Express yourself in some way. Your health and happiness will improve and we’ll all be better off for it.

Thank You for taking the time to read my post.  I hope it has inspired you to commit some of your thoughts to paper.  If you are already a journal junky or been converted then I’d love to hear your thoughts on the benefits of writing your thoughts and feelings. 

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