Journal Your Way to Better Health

Journal for Better Health 1

What happens to us is not as important as the meaning we assign to it.
Journaling helps sort this out.” Michael Hyatt

What would you think if I told you there was an inexpensive and creative way to lighten life’s burdens? Would you be interested?

Did you know one of the most effective ways you can lower stress is to pick up a pen, pencil, and something to write on and write? That’s correct, you want to journal your way to health.

In our digital age, many of us have allowed our penmanship to go the way of the Dodo bird. By doing that, we could be losing one of the best ways to manage our emotions and keep ourselves centered.

Recently I penned an article How to Crush Anxiety, Sadness, and Regret with Mindfulness. As a part of that article, I asked, “Have you ever heard of “mindfulness?” It has been a hot topic for several years.  It is a vital component of personal resilience. Mindfulness is simply being fully alive in the present moment. It means you are not feeling sadness and grief over your past nor feeling overwhelmed with worry and anxiety about the future. It means you are enjoying the presence of God in your life at this very moment. One way to enhance your sense of mindfulness, lower stress and anxiety, and push back depression is to journal.

Not too long ago, writing down your thoughts was a fundamental part of life. Journaling or keeping a diary was commonplace. Did you know that people sent handwritten notes to family, friends, loved once, and coworkers in recent history? 

Spiritual Directors, spiritual leaders, and psychologists have long understood that personal, emotional, and spiritually focused writing can help.  As a spiritual discipline, journaling and keeping a record of your quiet time insights is a great way to grow spiritually and increase personal resilience. 

When you and I form a letter of the alphabet on paper, we create it stroke by stroke. That process of creation involves areas that are very close to our brain’s parts that manage emotions. Hitting a fully formed letter on a keyboard is a very different type of task-one that does not engage any emotional part of the brain.[i]

A 2017 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that brain regions associated with learning are more active when people completed the task by hand instead of a keyboard. The authors of that study say writing by hand may promote “deep encoding” of new information so that keyboarding does not.

The fact that handwriting is a slower process than typing may be another perk, at least in some areas. A study done in 2014 in the Psychological Science discovered that students who took notes in longhand tested higher on learning and comprehension measures than students who took notes on their laptops.

Slowing down and writing by hand may come with additional advantages. While keyboarding is fast, it tends to minimize the use of words. Writing longhand allows people more time to develop their vocabulary, which promotes better self-expression, which can lead to better emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

What are some of the short- and long-term health benefits of putting pen to paper? Here are seven benefits of journaling:

  1. Reduces Stress – An overabundance of stress can damage your physical, mental, and emotional health. It’s proven. Journaling is an incredible stress management tool, a good-for-you habit that lessens physical stressors on your health. A study showed that expressive writing (like journaling) for only 15 to 20 minutes a day three to five times throughout four months was enough to lower blood pressure and improve liver functionality. Plus, writing about stressful experiences can help you healthily manage them. Try establishing journaling as a pre-bedtime meditation habit to help you unwind and de-stress.
  2. Improves Immune Function – Believe it or not, expressive writing can strengthen your immunity and decrease your risk of illness. Those who journal boast enhanced immune system functioning (it strengthens immune cells!) and lessened asthma and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Expressive writing has been shown to improve liver and lung function and combat certain diseases; it has even been reported to heal faster.
  3. Keeps Memory Sharp – Journaling helps keep your brain in tip-top shape. Not only does it boost memory and comprehension, but it also increases working memory capacity, which may reflect improved cognitive processing.
  4. Fosters Resiliency – Resilience is about handling stress, uncertainty, and setbacks well — in other words, maintaining equilibrium under pressure. And in our modern lives, whether we are at school, at work, or home, there’s no tension shortage. Maintaining our equilibrium is something; it seems we all need these days.
  5. Deepens Your Spirituality – Spiritual journaling is a great way to find time to hear his voice, reflect on his blessings, and express gratitude.
  6. Boosts Your Mood – Want more sunshine in your life? Try journaling. A unique social and behavioral outcome of journaling is this: it can improve your mood and give you a greater sense of overall emotional well-being and happiness.
  7. Strengthens Your Emotional Functions – Journaling benefits overall emotional health: As a person journals, habits develop, the benefits become long-term, meaning that diarists become more in tune with their health by connecting with inner needs and desires. Journaling evokes mindfulness and helps writers remain present while keeping perspective. It presents an opportunity for emotional catharsis and helps the brain regulate emotions. It provides a greater sense of confidence and self-identity. Journaling can help manage personal adversity and change and emphasize basic patterns and growth in life.  Research even shows that expressive writing can help individuals develop more structured, adaptive, and integrated schemes about themselves, others, and the world. What’s more, journaling unlocks and engages right-brained creativity, which gives you access to your full brainpower. Truly, journaling fosters growth.

So, great. You get it: Journaling is right for you — physically, mentally, and emotionally. But what if, like many of us, you find yourself stuck, staring fruitlessly at a blank page? Well, first, ditch the guilt of not being consistent or instantly motivated. Start where you are. If you need to initially write a single line or detail what you had for breakfast, do it. Don’t preoccupy yourself with managing perfect punctuation, grammar, or spelling. Just write and don’t censor yourself. This is for you. Remember: You don’t have to be Shakespeare.

Now that I have given you something to think about. Here are some practical things you can do to begin journaling.

I love keeping things simple, so here is a simple way to approach journaling. 

Follow the five steps to WRITE:[ii]

W – What do you want to write about? Name it.

R – Review or reflect on it – close your eyes, take deep breaths, and focus.

I – Investigate your thoughts and feelings. Just start writing and keep writing.

– Time yourself – write for 5 to 15 minutes straight.

E – Exit “smart” by re-reading what you’ve written and reflected on it with one or two sentences (Adams, n.d.)

Here is some motivation to help you begin or restart your journaling journey. This list comes from Journaling for Mindfulness[iii] by Alicia Nortje, Ph.D.

Here is a list of daily prompts that you can use for your journal. These prompts are not necessarily focused on gratitude but include other positive experiences—these prompts, inspired by Patel (2015).

  • Name three thoughts that made you smile today.
  • Name three things that challenged you today.
  • Name three urges that you resisted today.
  • Name three events that made you feel productive today.
  • Name three actions that made you feel loved today.
  • Name three beautiful things that you heard today.
  • Name three experiences that made you feel brave today.
  • Name three things that you learned today.
  • Name three beautiful things that you saw today.

Remember, all you need to start journaling is:

A journal

A pen or pencil

A comfortable spot

A time.

Ancient Wisdom

 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Write down for the record everything I have spoken to you, Jeremiah.  Jeremiah 30:2 NLT

I’d love to get your thoughts on this post. Feel free to comment, even begin a conversation.

[i]  Heid, Markham (September 12, 2019). Bring Back Handwriting: It’s Good for Your Brain.

[ii] Ackerman, Courtney (January 1, 2020). Writing Therapy: Using A Pen and Paper to Enhance Personal Growth.

[iii] Notrje, Alicia (January 1, 2020). Journaling for Mindfulness: 44 Prompts, Examples, and Exercises.

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