Journalling for better mental health
Reverend Robert Shields of Dayton, Ohio, is a contender for the world’s longest diary, spending four hours each day recording what happened every five minutes of every day for twenty-five years, and producing thirty-seven and a half million words. You don’t have to spend quite so much time on it to see the benefits of keeping a journal, though. Here are some reasons to give it a go.
Journalling activates different parts of the brain
The left side of the brain, or left hemisphere, controls tasks like writing, puzzles, and logic, while the right hemisphere is used for daydreaming, creativity, and feelings. While sometimes people are described as being “left-brain” or “right-brain” types of personality, everyone uses both halves, and exercising both halves will help you get better at a wide variety of tasks.
Writing a journal uses the left hemisphere in the actual writing, converting thoughts into words and putting them on a page. Meanwhile, it uses the right hemisphere to process emotions and daydreams. That way, your brain gets a full workout.
Journalling helps you process emotions
Studies at UCLA (https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Putting-Feelings-Into-Words-Produces-8047) have shown that describing feelings in words makes them less intense. Pictures of angry faces cause a defensive response in a brain region called the amygdala; when the subjects said out loud or wrote that they saw an angry face, the response decreased. Writing or talking about your feelings about bad things which happened in the past has been shown to reduce PTSD and depression symptoms connected with those events. On the other hand, writing down good things can help you remember them. Gratitude journals, in which you write down things you are thankful for, can help you focus on those things rather than on anything negative.
Sufferers of anxiety often worry about possible bad things in the future, too. Writing them down may help you cope with fear, consider how likely that thing actually is, and think of ideas for how to prevent or cope with it.
Journalling can help you solve problems
Writing about a problem or an argument can help you to understand it better and think of ideas for what to do about it. Writing how you feel about it can, as mentioned above, reduce the intensity of the feelings, allowing you to think more logically about it. Try writing what you think might happen if you try different ways to solve it.
Journalling helps you spot patterns
If you suffer from physical or mental health issues such as unidentified allergic reactions, mood swings, or panic attacks, keeping a record of when they happen can be very useful in finding the causes, allowing more effective treatment. It can also help you stop an addiction, such as smoking, if you notice when you’re most likely to smoke and make a point of avoiding the trigger or doing something else instead. Write down every detail you remember of the points it happens, then look for any common factors which might be causing them.
Journalling has physical benefits
By reducing the symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety, journaling has many health benefits. It can reduce blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and helps you to sleep better. It can help with weight control, reduces aches and pains, and may reduce the risk of some cancers.
How to start a therapeutic journal
Journalling is something I often suggest to my clients, but you don't need a therapist to get you started. Try journaling and see if it’s right for you. Write for at least ten minutes a day for two weeks, and see what improvements you notice. If you like it, continue from there.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and The Hypnotherapist's Companion, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.