Welcome to the largest and oldest self-help & psychology social network founded by a licensed psychologist and developed by hundreds of volunteer professionals. We hold steadfast to our mission: to deliver reliable, trusted education and support communities to you!

Strange but True: Improve Your Health through Journaling

by Ray Bruce, Ph.D.

You may already know that personal writing will improve your emotional health, but recent studies completed by scientists at Southern Methodist University and Ohio State University College of Medicine have proven that writing contributes directly to your physical health too.

Tests conducted by a team of clinical psychologists and immunologists demonstrated that subjects who wrote thoughtfully and emotionally about traumatic experiences achieved the following results:

  • increased T-cell production;
  • a drop in physician visits;
  • fewer absentee days;
  • generally improved physical health.

According to these studies, writing about your deepest thoughts and feelings in a personal, private notebook is a powerful tool for you to add to your healthful living tool chest.

Journaling or personal writing takes many forms. Its history is rooted as far back as the 10th Century in Japan when "Pillow Books" were used to record daily lives and thoughts. Today, the term journaling is usually used for personal writing that explores the inner world of the Self. Psychologist Ira Progoff, is generally credited with being the father of modern journaling. As a student of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, Progoff's work provided a way for individuals to explore ideas, thoughts, and dreams.

Here are some tips for you on how to use a journal for your health.

Most men resist personal writing until some traumatic experience, such as divorce, serious illness, a change in the job or work environment, or the death of a friend or loved one, forces them to seek extra help. Even everyday frustrations can provide topics for your writing. Journaling works every time it's used.

You don't need special tools or abilities. You can use any notebook or paper for your writing. Although there are many blank books available in stationary and book stores, notebook paper or a class notebook will work just fine. Since journaling is for your own use, spelling, handwriting, and grammar are not major concerns. The purpose of writing in the journal is for you to get your feelings and experiences down on paper. You're not writing for a grade or for review by someone else.

Writing in a journal uses simple techniques. Here are three that will get you started.

Reflective Writing:

Be an observer of your life. Write about events that are happening to you or around you, in a way that helps put them into perspective. This is especially effective when writing about life changes, job or career, relationships or illness.

Begin writing with the phrase, "It was a time when...," then let yourself describe the event in detail, use as many of your senses as possible. What were the sounds, smells, sights, feelings, etc. that were present?

Write about the event as though you were observing yourself. Use "she" and "he" rather than "I" in your sentences. Describe the activities as an outside observer. Frequently this helps give perspective to an otherwise very personal experience.

Cathartic Writing:

Write about your feelings, all of them. Put your pain, fear, anger, frustrations, and grief down on paper. Say what you want to say, need to say, on the page. The journal won't judge or criticize you. You can use it as a safe place to let out everything you feel. Sometimes you may choose to throw away your writing, or burn it as a rite of letting go of the event or feeling disrupting your life. Let your intuition lead you in your writing, and in what to do with the words once you've written them. Try it when you're feeling joy and gratitude, too.

Begin with the phrase, "Right now I feel...," then let yourself write whatever comes out. If you run out of feelings, re-read what you've just written and then write the next thing that comes to mind.

Unsent Letters:

You can write a letter in your journal to a person, place, event, or belief. The journal gives you a powerful way to express what you experience and feel about any situation. Your journal will give you a place to express your true feelings when you may not feel comfortable doing it more directly. This technique is especially helpful in dealing with death or divorce. These are situations where we may not be able to talk with the person directly. It it also a powerful way to process the emotions that come up on the job or in a relationship. How about frustrations with your kids?

Begin with a salutation, just as you would if you were writing a letter, "Dear....". Then let your pen and paper lead you. You may be surprised at the power and clarity you experience from your writing. Your journal may be just a starting place for a whole new level of communication with others.

While you are writing, or after you've written, you may feel deep emotions. They're normal and healthy. In fact, the emotional release is just what contributes to the healthy impact of journaling. If you want to do more with what you've written, share it with a friend, counselor, clergy or physician. Your writing is for your health, not for public display. Make sure that members of your household know that you're writing in your journal and that you want it to be private. You will find that others are very respectful of your writing, especially when you ask them to treat it that way.

Add journaling to your tool kit of ways to keep yourselfhealthy. Its benefits will go far beyond the pages you fill.

Originally published 5/28/98
Revised 11/19/08 by Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D.
Blogs Discussion Forums Free Newsletter Rate Our Site Shop for Books
We make every effort to present accurate information, but you may find errors or mischievous material.
Please contact us if anything seems wrong (remove spaces between letters below):
m a n a g e r  @  s e l f h e l p m a g a z i n e . c o m
Copyright 1994 - 2008
Pioneer Development Resources, Inc.
All rights reserved.