When your body is sick or injured, you probably seek medical attention and follow a regimen of prescriptions, bed rest, and even physical therapy. But did you know that keeping a journal might aid in your recovery? There's also some evidence that healthy people who keep journals report a greater well-being and fewer medical problems.
"Journal writing is not for everyone," Beck continues, "but for many it can be cathartic, insightful, and even fun. It can be shared or kept private, and still be beneficial as a tool for therapy. And long after therapy is needed, it can still be utilized to maintain health."
Writing Helps Chronic Conditions
A four-month study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that writing down details about particularly stressful events can improve the health of patients who suffer from asthma and arthritis.
In the study, the participants were divided into two groups. One group simply wrote about their plans for the day. Patients in the other group wrote about their feelings surrounding a stressful event in their lives. All of the people continued their regular medical treatment, and had their condition evaluated at two weeks, two months, and four months. Researchers found that 47% of the patients who wrote about their feelings showed improvement while only 24% of the other group did.
Dr. Arthur A. Stone, co-author of the study from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, is quick to point out that the study did not focus on journal writing.
"We looked at writing about the most stressful experience of one's life in an emotional way," says Dr. Stone. "How is this different than journaling? Well, for one thing, we don't know what people write about in their journals or about how they write. In other words, if a person was to simply record the day's events in a log-type manner, then this would be a very different task than the emotional writing about stressful events that we did. But perhaps some individuals journal in a very emotional way, attempting to solve problems and by providing their journal with detailed, emotional reactions to their life. This is clearly more similar to our task."
In another study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers examined
the effect of writing about a traumatic event. In this study, some participants focused on journaling about emotions related to the event, others focused on emotions and cognitions (thoughts), while others simply wrote factually about the daily news. Interestingly, writing about emotions alone increased negative symptoms from the trauma, while those who focused on both thoughts and feelings developed a sense that the stressful event had produced positive effects in their lives.
Don't let the blank journal page intimidate you. Just start writing and write everyday until it becomes a daily habit. Books like Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within offer suggestions for finding the freedom to write down your emotions and feelings. And if you're more comfortable with a keyboard than with a pen, type away. The key is to get your feelings down, regardless of how you do it.
Keeping a journal is particularly effective for people undergoing long periods of grief, such as the loss of a spouse or child. The journal serves as a "vessel" for your emotions that you may be unable or unwilling to share.
Need some help getting started? In her journal-writing workshops, Charlene Kingston, of Writing The Journey, suggests some basic topics that will get you started.
· Who am I? How do I know who I am?
· What does it mean to be content?
· Do I listen more or talk more? Why?
· What does it mean to nurture myself?
· Am I comfortable with my feelings? What makes me cry or laugh? When am I comfortable expressing my feelings?
· How much of my time is spent with other people and how much am I alone?
· Why do bad things happen? Who is responsible when something bad happens to me?
· How do I handle stress? Do I welcome challenges?
What is my unique gift to the world?
Should I go to Essence of Health for massage ??? <humor> ;)
Anderson CM. Writing and Healing: Toward an Informed Practice. 1999.
The Center for Journal Therapy
Ullrich PM, Lutgendorf SK. Journaling about stressful events: effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Ann Behav Med. 2002;24:244-50.
Writing The Journey