|photo by Guy Sie from Utrecht, Netherlands|
Helen Bennett is a freelance writer previously employed in the healthcare sector for many years, with a varied career that took in many aspects of helping people, particularly in matters relating to diet, nutrition and fitness. She joins us today to discuss the benefits of keeping a journal.
Could Writing a Journal Be Good for Your Health?
If you have aspirations to succeed as a writer, than journaling everyday could change your life. Many successful writers choose to keep a journal: the importance of keeping a journal is something that Virginia Woolf wrote extensively about, sharing in her letters: 'My belief is that my habit of writing this for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments...I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing to my casual half hour after tea.' Other famous literary journal writers include Ray Bradbury, Susan Sontag and CS Lewis. The more you write, the more your writing skills will increase, and for writers of memoir journals, provide important lessons in chronology and forming a solid narrative arc. However journal writing is not just for writers because it does so much more than simply improve the quality of your writing: it can also improve mental and physical health and wellbeing.
Here are just some of the health benefits of keeping and regularly updating a journal:
Immune System Boosting Properties
It might seem illogical, but there is mounting evidence to suggest that jotting down just a few sentences in your journal each day can actually help to boost your immune system. University of Texas at Austin Psychologist and Researcher James Pennebaker has conducted extensive investigations into the power of journal keeping, and found that regular journaling strengthens the T-lymphocyte immune cells. By strengthening your immunity you will increase your overall health, reducing your likelihood of suffering from colds, the flu, and other contagious viral illnesses. What's more, additional research has also shown that journaling can help reduce the symptoms of chronic inflammatory disorders such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. It is thought this works because conditions such as these can be aggravated by external stressors: as journaling minimizes your stress levels, it reduces the impact that stress can have on your physical health.
Reduce Levels of Stress and Anxiety
Reducing your levels of stress and anxiety is thought to be the biggest health benefit of writing a regular journal. This is why individuals who have experienced stressful life events (such as the death of a friend or family member, the trauma of addiction, of a long term health condition) are often encouraged to keep a daily journal. Because the act of writing unlocks the logical and analytical left side of your brain, it frees up the creative right side of your brain to process the emotions that you have experienced throughout the day whilst the left side is distracted and occupied. Journaling is an excellent way to clarify your thoughts and feelings, particularly about events that make you feel confused and anxious, and find solutions to problems more effectively. For individuals working in high pressure environments or living otherwise stressful lives, writing about your anger, frustration and pain can help to relieve the intensity of those emotions and enable you to look at them with a calmer and more logical mind (which means you are more likely to find a worthwhile solution to your stressors and ultimately live a more enriching life).
Pick Up Your Pen
Many people that are new to journaling often ask where they should start: the simple answer is to just pick up your pen and start writing! There is no right or wrong thing to write about, only what is right and wrong for you. From a scientific point of view, the most effective journaling is undertaken on a daily basis and lasts for around 20 minutes each day: this will enable you to be enveloped in the full cathartic effect of the experience. Ensure that you have a quiet and private place to write, and keep your journal safe from prying eyes: if you feel your journal may be read by someone else, you will unconsciously censor your thoughts, and this will remove many of the benefits of the open stream of consciousness journal writing experience.