The health benefits of keeping a personal journal or diary are proven and highly recommended by therapists.
The pioneer of journal therapy, Dr. James W. Pennebaker, has been researching the effects of expressive writing for decades. He, and other researchers and scientists around the world, have found that actively holding back feelings from others is extremely stressful. By simply expressing yourself through writing, you could potentially experience immediate life improvements. His research suggests that journal writing, especially expressive writing, over short periods of time (specifically 4 days in a row for 15 minutes each) will generate said health improvements and results.
The well-being of your immune system is highly correlated with your psychological well-being. Stressful situations, such as exams, loneliness, divorce, or job loss can "lead to adverse immunological changes."
Boost Your Immune System
Similar to the effect of psychotherapy, keeping an online diary or personal journal regularly can have an immense positive impact on the immune system. Simply writing about important experiences for as little as 15 minutes per day can not only reduce stress and anxiety, it can decrease visits to the physician as well. It can also increase anti-body response, lower heart rate and electrodermal activity, and lower pain and medication use. This is especially the case if you write in your diary about traumatic life experiences and feelings. In fact, by writing about emotional thoughts that are actively hidden from others, you will achieve "the greatest [amount] of health improvements."
Keeping a daily food diary can double a person's wieght-loss, according to a study from Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research. "Those who kept daily food records," said author Jack Hollis Ph.D., "lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. It seems that the simple act of writing down what you eat encourages people to consume fewer calories."
"The process of reflecting on what you eat that helps us become aware of our habits, and hopefully change our behavior," says Keith Bachman, MD, a Weight Management Initiative member. "Every day I hear patients say they can't lose weight. This study shows that most people can lose weight if they have the right tools and support."
Combined with healthy eating and moderate exercise, over 1,700 patients were able to lose an average of 13 pounds. Losing as little as five pounds can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure by 20 percent.
Add journaling to your dieting regime and be healthier!
Not only can keeping a personal journal or online diary help your immune system and overall physical health, it can better your mental health and functioning as well.
Stop Worrying and Reduce Stress
Do you have unwanted thoughts? Are you continually worrying about the same thing? Are you constantly trying to avoid thinking about something? By simply writing down your thoughts, they can magically disappear. The act of diary writing can give you a new understanding of your emotions. Thoughts and feelings that seem overwhelming become more manageable and understood after they are written down. So let your thoughts out and enjoy some peace of mind!
Dr. Kitty Klein, NC State University psychologist, has shown that by writing about emotional or stressful experiences, your ability to concentrate can increase. Your working memory capacity—the ability to keep your attention focused in the face of distraction or interference—can significantly improve through expressive journal writing. On average, students saw an 11% increase in their working memory by writing about negative experiences, 4.5% increase by writing about positive experiences, and a 2.5% percentage increase when simply writing about their daily activities in a diary. These percentages were directly correlated with an increase in the grades of the students in the study.
Coping with Trauma
A traumatic event can be a life-altering thing. We expect our lives to be predictable and reasonable, but sometimes we are faced with situations that turn our world upside down. Death, divorce, rape, violence, and natural disasters are just some examples of events that can shatter our perception of the world. When this happens, you can experience extreme anxiety, intense depression, or vehement denial. Over time, we find a way to cope with our trauma and eventually make things right again but often, this is not the case. Most people cope with traumatic events by trying to forget them. They constantly avoid thinking about their traumas and try to control their emotions. This method of coping is extremely hazardous to your health and well-being. It is important to work through and accept your problems so that you can recover and be free from the past.
Expressive writing can be integral to coping with a traumatic event. Writing about the event and your feelings surrounding it on a regular basis is difficult, but it can give you better understanding and closure so you can rid yourself of the anxiety, stress, and depression that invades your daily life.
If you have suffered a traumatic experience, expressive writing can help. However, if your trauma was serious, it is not advised that you write freely. If this is the case, please consult your therapist or doctor before you begin.
Find a Job Faster
Dr. James W. Pennebaker and others have found that keeping a journal or diary can help you find a job faster. Losing a job is one of the most traumatic experiences you can endure. Disclosing your thoughts and writing regularly about your job loss can triple your chances of speedy reemployment. Even simply writing about your daily activities can double your success of finding a job over those who don't write at all.
Better Romantic Relationships
Expressive writing has also been significantly related to long-term stability of romantic relationships. By writing about your relationship in a journal, you and your significant other will use more positive emotion words, which can result in better outcomes for relationships.
This not only applies to existing relationships, but also to recent breakups. Those who write expressively in a diary or journal about a breakup are more likely to reunite. And the positive effects are not limited to romantic relationships, but friends, family, and work colleagues as well.
Keeping an online diary or personal journal has so many more benefits than listed above. Social adjustment, mood change, cognitive processing, motivation, creativity, life satisfaction and coping with trauma are just some of the topics covered in the hundreds of studies that have been published on expressive writing and journal therapy.
"When individuals write about emotional
experiences, significant physical and
mental health improvements follow." - James W. Pennebaker, Writing About Emotional
Experiences as a Therapeutic Process
By writing in a journal for as little as 15
minutes per day, you could benefit from:
Klein, K. & Boals, A. (2001). Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 520-533.
Pennebaker, J.W. (1997). Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion. New York: Guilford Press.
Pennebaker, J.W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166. A brief overview of the nature of the writing paradigm and its effects on physical health.
Pennebaker, J.W., Kiecolt-Glaser, J., & Glaser, R. (1988). Disclosure of traumas and immune function: Health implications for psychotherapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 239-245. The first writing study to demonstrate that disclosure of emotional upheavals can influence immune function.
Pennebaker, J.W. & Seagal, J. (1999). Forming a story: The health benefits of narrative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55, 1243-1254. A summary of recent disclosure studies with an eye towards understanding the nature of narrative.
Slatcher, R.B. & Pennebaker, J.W. (2006). How do I love thee? Let me count the words: The social effects of expressive writing. Psychological Science, 17, 660-664. A study using expressive writing that finds that people who write about their relationship are more likely to remain in that relationship. Also, the analysis of Instant Messages (IMs) finds that certain word-use patterns correlates with relationship success.
Spera, S.P., Buhrfeind, E.D., & Pennebaker, J.W. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. Academy of Management Journal, 37, 722-733. High level engineers who lost their jobs were more likely to be re-employed if they wrote about their job loss than those who either did not write or who wrote about time management.
Kaiser Permanente (2008, July 8). Keeping A Food Diary Doubles Diet Weight Loss, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 26, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708080738.htm