Evidence of Health Benefits:
Many people may have heard that writing about our feelings can help, but what exactly does it do for our body/mind? Psychologist and researcher from the University of Texas James Pennebaker has found that regular journaling can reduce the stress we encounter during a truly difficult time by allowing the situation to become a reality. It can also increase the effectiveness of the immune system by strengthening our T-cells. (Purcell, Psychcentral).
Journaling increases our self-awareness. This is because when you journal, you are keeping the left side of the brain occupied. This side of the brain is used to rationalize and analyze a situation. This leaves your right side of the brain free to create and feel. By turning off the left side of the brain for a few moments, you can start to rely on the creative side to approach your problems (Purcell, Psychcentral).
Your Words will either Hurt or Harm you:
Many people will claim, “The best thing about journaling is that you can write about whatever you want.” This is true, but to an extent. A study done by Dr. Lutgendorf and Professor Ulrich from the University of Iowa disproved this claim by taking over 100 students and dividing them into 3 groups. Each group was assigned a different method of writing while going through a stressful situation. The first group wrote about the negative emotions they experienced, the second group wrote about the negative emotions and cognitions they experienced, and the third group wrote about factual media events (Lutgendorf and Ulrich, EBSCO).
The researchers found that the second group that wrote on both their emotions and cognitions increased their self-awareness and reaped the most benefits through the stressful event than the other two groups. Interestingly, the group that wrote only about their negative emotions reported the most symptoms of sore throat, high fever, and/or nasal congestion. In other words, those that wrote merely on their negative emotions had their immune system greatly suppressed. So, it is important to note that while journal writing can unlock a list of wonderful benefits, there are right and wrong ways of doing it.
For those who are still confused as to the cognition portion of the study, this is the process of writing down your negative thoughts and training your mind to think alternative, positive thoughts. It takes an increased sense of self-awareness to master this, which is achieved through journalling. Many people, including myself, have a difficult time of turning their negative thoughts into rewarding, positive thoughts. Therefore, I would encourage anyone who keeps hitting a brick wall to seek out a psychologist who is trained in cognitive therapy.