A recent study showed that the majority of American teenagers believe depression and anxiety are major problems among their peers. The importance of self-care and prioritising mental health is a prominent issue in society today, and journaling has been cited as a useful coping mechanism.
We’ve previously explored how journaling can help you reconnect with yourself, but how else can journaling on a regular basis help us in our day-to-day lives?
The history of journaling
The art of journaling has been practiced as far back as the thirteenth century, when Marco Polo used his travelogue to document his travels to Asia. Long before that, Christian pilgrims would use travel journals to keep a record of their trips to the Holy Land.
Famous figures - spanning the worlds of literature, music, art and politics - have used journals to record their thoughts, experiences and feelings at pivotal moments in their lives. Many of these documents are now carefully preserved in museums or libraries across the globe.
The reasons for keeping a journal can vary from person-to-person. Explorers and travellers such as Marco Polo used them to record their travel experiences, whilst larger-than-life political figures like Winston Churchill used them to clarify their thoughts on the complex issues of the day.
Nowadays, many of us use a journal as a way to relieve stress or improve our mental health. Research indicates that writing about our feelings can make us happier, as well as offering emotional and physical benefits.
How journaling can improve productivity
One of the main benefits of keeping a journal is using it as a goal-setting tool. By writing down our aspirations and ambitions, we can determine exactly what we want to achieve - and how we will do it.
A research study at the Dominician University in California found that setting targets and documenting them had a positive effect. In the study, those who had written goals “accomplished significantly more than those who did not write down their goals.”
In a hectic work environment, employees are often bombarded by questions from colleagues or faced with a difficult problem to solve for a customer. Using a journal to prioritise or help brainstorm ideas can be an effective way to solve problems, and improve an individual’s productivity.
Does journaling improve memory?
In addition to improving productivity, there are signs that keeping a journal can help us remember important information. In our modern-day society, with the constant stimuli of social media and technology, noting down details is not only good for our sense of wellbeing - it can also help us to remember key points that would otherwise be missed.
A series of experiments conducted at Lancaster University, as well as a separate study at the University of Technology and Economics in Budapest, confirmed that journaling can improve your memory. In the Lancaster University study, participants who journaled every day - just before going to bed - exhibited far greater memory recall than those who had written their diary in the morning.
How journaling can improve health
For some time, it has been understood that journaling can have a profound effect on mental health. Many people keep a mindfulness journal, which allows them to take time to reflect and think about the issues facing them in their lives.
Yet research also indicates the health benefits of journaling can improve our physical wellbeing and our immune systems, as these two examples demonstrate:
- A study in New Zealand undertook an investigation to find out if expressive writing could help older adults heal faster after a biopsy. In the study, 49 adults over the age of sixty were asked to write about upsetting events every day for 20 minutes, for three days in a row. Photographs were used to document the healing progress of the biopsy, and found that 76 percent of the expressive writing group had fully healed, compared with just 42 percent of the control group.
- The American Psychological Association reported on the benefits of writing for the immune system. A study by psychologists at the University of Texas indicated that writing about stress could boost immune functioning in patients with illnesses like asthma, arthritis and even HIV/AIDS.
It would appear that, irrespective of the life problem, journaling can be a useful technique to help reflect and evaluate. Studies at the University of Arizona even showed that “repeatedly reflecting on a break-up” through the act of journaling can be beneficial.
Why is journaling a stress reliever?
It is easy to become consumed by stressful thoughts in any aspect of our lives - whether it’s family, work or other troubles we may be facing.
Taking time to express our thoughts and emotions on paper is a great way to take them out of our minds and put them onto paper. Once we can see our thoughts in black and white, our mind becomes clearer, and a pathway to a resolution can be navigated. In times where we may not feel comfortable talking or confiding in loved ones, journaling can provide an extremely valuable reprieve.
How journaling can improve happiness
The physical, mental and emotional benefits of journal writing are clear, combined with an increase in productivity. But does it actually make us happier?
The evidence seems to suggest that journaling does have an impact on people’s happiness. Studies by a psychologist at the University of California reported that writing about feelings can help overcome stressful events and eliminate negative thoughts - and make people happier overall.
Brain scans on volunteers showed that putting pen to paper and expressing emotions reduces the activity in the part of the brain called the amygdala, which controls the intensity of our emotions. People were happier, regardless of the topic they had written about; it was the simple act of writing which had helped.
The findings even suggested that poetry and song lyrics using pen and paper could have a positive effect on happiness.
Keeping a journal can be an effective tool to help combat negative feelings, defeat depression, and even improve physical health.
The act of journaling, and allowing our thoughts to travel from our mind to a piece of paper, is a truly therapeutic experience which can have numerous benefits - a terrific antidote to the frenetic pace of modern life.