Once reserved for teen girls as an outlet to process big feelings, journaling has experienced a rebirth among adults of all ages.
From gratitude journals and expressive writing to food diaries and travel journals, documenting our thoughts, feelings, and experiences on paper has become a trendy pastime.
New research also shows that journaling provides more than an outlet for expression.
Studies have linked regular journaling with specific improvements in physical, mental, and emotional health.
In this article, we’ll explore seven proven health benefits of journaling and how to get started and maintain a healthy practice.
7 Benefits of Journaling for Physical, Mental, & Emotional Health
It is well-established that eating well, exercising, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and nurturing social connections promote health and may help prevent disease.
Health-conscious people understand this and make a valiant effort to focus on these lifestyle factors.
However, few people would think to prioritize journaling the same way they do nutrition or exercise. Yet, research shows journaling can provide immense health benefits—not just to mental health but also to our physical health.
Intrigued? Then, let’s get started exploring the seven benefits of journaling for physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
1. Journaling Can Help Your Sleep
Sleep deprivation is a big problem in America, with 1 in 3 Americans not getting the recommended 7.5-9 hours of sleep per night.REF#2865
This is problematic as sleep deprivation is associated with a wide range of conditions ranging from metabolic disorders and cognitive decline to depression and obesity.REF#2866
So, what is keeping Americans up at night?
Although sleep issues can be caused by various physical, mental, and emotional issues, many people attribute their sleeplessness to stress and worry.
This has led many health experts to recommend nightly journaling to “brain dump” unwanted thoughts, worries, and even to-do lists onto paper.
Journaling helps get those thoughts out of your head so you can relax and fall asleep easier.
Research supports journaling for improved sleep, with studies showing that journaling about unwanted thoughts, worries, and even gratitude journaling (the practice of writing down what you’re thankful for) can improve many aspects of sleep function.REF#2867 REF#2868
2. Journaling May Reduce Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, either acute or chronic, affects millions of Americans and can lead to serious consequences if left untreated.
In addition to lifestyle changes and other medical interventions, studies have shown journaling may help.
For example, journaling has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, which can cause or contribute to high blood pressure.REF#2869 REF#2870
Research has also shown that expressive writing, a type of focused journaling about traumatic or highly stressful events, reduces blood pressure and results in fewer stress-related doctor visits.REF#2871
3. Journaling Provides a Safe Space to Process Emotions
As young children, we can’t help but honestly express our emotions as we experience them.
Hopefully, our parents or caregivers were mature enough to encourage and help guide us safely through those tantrums, frustrations, or hurt feelings.
As adults, however, we don’t always have the luxury of expressing ourselves so wholly or freely.
This is especially true for parents, teachers, or caregivers who must remain calm and in control for the sake of those they care for.
Journaling can be beneficial for adults, giving us a safe and private space to express and accept our feelings without fear of judgment.
This, in turn, helps us process various emotions, which helps prevent repression that can lead to poor mental and emotional health outcomes.
Research has also shown that acceptance of emotions is crucial to a healthy mental/emotional state.REF#2872
4. Regular Journaling Is Good For Your Liver, Immune Function, and Lungs
Nearly every traditional wellness system considers the mind, body, and spirit interconnected.
For example, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, every organ and meridian system is connected to specific emotions.
Ayurveda, the traditional wellness practice of India, operates under a similar principle.
Although science has been slow to uncover the “mystery” of the mind-body connection, a growing body of research has begun to validate what traditional healers have known for centuries: that the body and mind are inextricably connected.
Some of this research has been recorded with regard to the physical effects of journaling.
For example, one study entitled: “Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing” found that improved liver, lung, and immune system functioning was a long-term effect of regular expressive writing.
More research is needed to understand the connection. However, preliminary findings do suggest a connection between regular journaling and improved physical health.
5. Journaling May Promote Various Aspects of Mental Health
Many therapists recommend journaling as a tool to help with mental health struggles.
Preliminary research supports various styles of journaling for mental health, showing it may help reduce anxiety (especially in women), depression, and even PTSD.REF#2873
More research is needed, but journaling may be a safe and effective drug-free tool to support mental well-being.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, always talk to your doctor or therapist before changing your mental health routine.
6. Journaling Can Improve Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of the present moment continuously.
People use mindfulness practices, such as meditation, to help reduce stress, create greater self-awareness, improve mental and emotional well-being, support sleep, promote relaxation, and more.
Journaling can help improve mindfulness practices by enhancing awareness, promoting relaxation, and helping reduce racing thoughts or unwanted worries.
Journaling itself is a form of mindfulness as it focuses the mind while rooting one in the present moment.
Any type of journaling can be a mindful experience so long as you are focused on expressing yourself without judgment.
Some specific examples of mindfulness journaling include:
- Counseling journaling
- Expressive writing
- Gratitude journaling
- Self-compassion journaling
- Reflective journaling
To learn more about mindfulness, check out: How to Get Started With Mindfulness: Tips, Exercises & More.
7. Journaling May Help Your Social Life
There’s nothing like living through a pandemic to make you appreciate regular social connections.
New research has highlighted the importance of meaningful social interactions.
Per the National Institutes of Aging, prolonged social isolation increases the risk of various physical and mental conditions, including: REF#2874
- A weakened immune system
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cognitive decline
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- And even death
An active social life is also a common thread among centenarians worldwide.
However, making new and meaningful connections isn’t easy for everyone, especially in a digital age.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, research suggests gratitude journaling may help you create a better social life by enhancing friendliness and making one more open to practicing prosocial behaviors.REF#2875
The act of expressing our feelings through journaling can also make us better communicators, and gratitude journaling has been shown to enhance a sense of belonging in children.REF#2876
More research is needed. However, it appears journaling may promote prosocial behavior, a sense of belonging, and better communication in relationships.
How To Get Started Journaling
Many people shy away from journaling because of the association with keeping a diary, which can seem trivial to adults.
However, there are many different forms of journaling besides diary-style writing.
Some examples include:
- Bullet journaling: This is where you write a to-do style bulleted list to get things out of your head and organized onto paper. This can be good for brain-dumping at night if to-dos keep you awake.
- Collage journaling: An artistic compilation of photos, quotes, artwork, your writing or drawings, or anything that helps you express yourself. Think of it as scrapbooking for journaling.
- Expressive writing: Writing for 15-20 minutes non-stop about your deepest thoughts and feelings. This is typically used to express feelings surrounding a trauma or significant emotional event but can be used in any fashion.
- Dream Journal: Writing down your dreams upon waking. This can benefit those interested in analyzing their dreams for self-discovery or fun.
- Gratitude journaling: Writing down things or experiences you are grateful for. It could be people, places, parts of your body, or anything you’re thankful for that day.
- Hobby journaling: Writing or crafting about your favorite hobbies. This could include photographs, drawings, paintings, written observations, plant pressings, or whatever helps you document your favorite hobbies.
- Unsent Letter journaling: Writing letters you’ll never send expressing anger, regret, or other feelings you want or need to express to a person. This is a safe way to release these feelings without judgment or confrontation. It’s also a helpful way to share feelings with those who have died or who you do not want to talk to or have lost touch with.
- Morning pages: Created by the author of “The Artist’s Way,” this form of journaling is ideal for creative types and involves writing three pages of thoughts, uninterrupted, first thing in the morning.
- Life Event or Season of Life Journals: Writing about events, feelings, happenings, etc., of a certain phase of life, such as college, engagement, getting married, pregnancy, parenting, starting a business, retirement, and more.
There are no fancy tools or expensive journals required for journaling. A simple notebook and pen or computer is all you need to get started.
You can also get fancy with various pre-printed journals (with or without prompts or themes), prompts from apps or online sources, nice pens, and relaxing music to help you focus.
You can find various printed journals or apps with prompts to help get that pen moving.
Journaling Not Working for You?
Try experimenting with different types of journaling to see what suits you best at that moment.
Even if one style has been working for you for a while, it may help to change it up as your practice evolves.
There are also journaling coaches who can help you discover the best method for your personality, needs, and unique situation.
Finally, keep it simple! The best way to fail at journaling is never to start, so grab a notebook and pen and spend 5 minutes writing down a few things you’re thankful for, some feelings, or a to-do list for the day.
Repeat this daily, and before you know it, you’ll be on your way to creating a productive and beneficial journaling practice.
Looking for more creative ways to improve physical, mental, and emotional health? Check out these 8 Self-Care Techniques That Take 10 Minutes or Less
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