Dear Diary: How Journaling Improves Your Mental Health
By Christa A. Banister
Long, long ago before everyone used a smartphone for, well, everything, people regularly put actual pen to paper and kept a journal about whatever was on their minds.
It was a welcoming, unfiltered place to empty all those thoughts and feelings from your head to the page. And chances are, you probably felt a little better afterward. Even if you didn’t consider yourself a “writer,” it didn’t matter because this was for an audience of one — you.
Let It Out
Not to sound like your mama, but sometimes the old school ways of doing things are still relevant. As it turns out, there is still immense and tangible value in journaling today. Not only can it be an outlet for overwhelming emotions, but writing whatever’s on your mind on a regular basis can also help reduce stress, manage anxiety and even help someone cope with eating disorders, bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia or depression.1
More specifically, it gives you a safe space to help prioritize what’s bothering you most at the moment and offers a record of your happiest and hardest days that you can reflect on in the future. It can even provide context to help you make sense of different life experiences, and get to know yourself better.
The Case for Writing It Down
Researchers from Harvard Business School discovered that documenting even the smallest, most insignificant facts about your life at any given moment can have an even more powerful emotional payoff in the future than when you originally wrote it.2 In addition to a myriad of emotional benefits, a psychologist and researcher from the University of Texas at Austin, James W. Pennebaker, PhD, makes a connection between journaling regularly and good health because it helps to strengthen immune cells that ward off sickness.3
Other research has suggested that journaling helps decrease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and leads to more efficient problem solving. Additional scientific evidence supports the idea that writing also helps remove mental blocks and unlocks all your brainpower to better understand yourself, not to mention the world around you.
Unlike so many activities with specific rules and secrets to success, journaling is best when it’s more freeform, like abstract art. And if the idea of writing conjures up unpleasant images of college research papers, don’t worry, there’s absolutely no editing (or pesky footnotes) required.
While some people may like to set aside a specific time every day to record their thoughts, another may prefer to write whenever it feels right. Setting aside a few minutes every day to journal is a good way to practice self-care, but it’s not necessary for journaling to be effective.
For further proof of how sharing your unique story has such positive benefits for your mental health, don’t hesitate to check out the stories shared here in the Heroes in Recovery community and get inspired to share your own.
1 “Journaling for Mental Health.” University of Rochester Medical Center, Accessed May 29, 2018.
2 Barth, F. Diane. “Keeping a Journal Can Be Good For Your Emotional Health.” Psychology Today, May 4, 2018.
3 Purcell, Maud. “The Health Benefits of Journaling.” Psych Central, March 22, 2018.