Can Journling Write Away My Asthma?

Journaling For Better Asthma Control

Journaling. Getty Images

Can journaling write away my asthma?

Did your Mom ever tell you to go write a letter to someone you were really angry with? Mine did and it is something I still do today not only when I am angry, but also about a number of other issues that go on in my life.

The process of putting my emotions, fears, and struggles to paper allows me to express myself without fear of judgment, ridicule or punishment.

I can choose to share my thoughts or keep them locked up forever. The world is much clearer after I journal and often affords me a better approach to the problem I am trying to solve. Journaling may have some similar benefits for your asthma.

I am being asked all the time, in my office, kids school, and just about anywhere, about alternative asthma treatments such as acupuncture or the latest herb a parent saw on the morning news. Journaling is a cheap, easy way to potentially improve your asthma with very little risk of side effects.

What Is Journaling

Journaling is a tool that can help patients and parents focus on what is really important to them. It allows you to write down your thoughts, feelings, concerns, observations and reflect. Reflection boosts self-efficacy and you will feel more confident about what you want to achieve. Health journaling may also have a benefit yo your physical well-being.

Many people use journaling as a way to cultivate their higher self or get clear about next steps they want to take in life, business, or personal development.

Journaling goes back to ancient times and presidents journaled for prosperity. Famous people such as Ernest Hemingway, Oprah Winfrey, George Patton, Andy Warhol, John Adams, Pablo Picasso, Charles Darwin, and Leonardo Da Vinci have all kept journals.

How might journaling help my asthma?

Benefits of Health Journaling

Professor James Pennebaker, from the University of Texas at Austin, is one of the scientists who believe there is a direct benefit from actually putting pen to paper (or maybe keyboard to computer screen) about your health.

In a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, he found that regular journal writing improved the immune system and helped patients recover from traumatic events, stress, and depression.

Professor Joshua Smyth from North Dakota State University demonstrated improvements in FEV1 when writing about the most stressful event in their lives over several days.

If stress is an asthma trigger, journaling may improve your asthma control as it has been shown to be an effective stress management tool.

Other Benefits of Health Journaling

When I suggest journaling to friends, family, and patients, I often get a look or comment that I am already so busy and how will I fit it into my schedule. A common response is “you already ask me to exercise and eat better, how do you expect me to find time for this?”

Journaling is both a left and right brain activity that:

  • Helps you clarify your thoughts and feelings
  • Allows you to know yourself better
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves your ability to problem solve
  • Resolve disagreements with others
  • Helps you find common ground
  • Resolve conflict

Who Responds To Journal Writing

While there is no single characteristic that identifies whether or not you will benefit from picking up journaling. When you self-identify with certain characteristics, you may be more likely to benefit from journaling. In one study of journaling and asthma, self-identifying with the following characteristics predicted a better response:

  • Seeing oneself as a leader
  • Being independent
  • Viewing change as a challenge
  • Accepting of illness but maintaining sense of control over your decisions
  • Believing in complementary and alternative treatments
  • Willingness to fight for your own needs in the healthcare system

How To Start Journaling For Asthma

How to begin? This is one of the most difficult tasks with any new habit or activity. You need to just start writing.

I recommend that you do it daily for 5–20 minutes. Do not worry about punctuation, spelling, or what you want to write about. It is best to be alone and somewhere private so that you can avoid being interrupted and not worry about what you are putting to paper.

I suggest that people write quickly with an attitude of whatever comes to mind. I find this helps with people staring at the paper “no knowing what to write about.”

If you cannot think of anything to write about, consider the following writing prompts:

  • What does being healthy really mean?
  • What are 5 things that are preventing me from getting better control of my asthma?
  • How can I develop habits that will improve my asthma?
  • Consider choices you have made related to your asthma. Write down an asthma goal and 3 things you can do to accomplish it.

Writing Prompts For Kids With Asthma

Health journaling is not just for adults. In Digging Deep Rose Offner and Sheri Brisson created a journal that provides adolescents and kids with a chronic illness the ability to express their feelings about their illness and how it impacts them. The exercises directly address feelings and issues that impact kids with chronic illness.

I had an opportunity to interview Sheri Brisson and ask her the follow questions about kids, journaling, and chronic illness:

1. What benefits might a child with asthma or other chronic illness get from going through your journal “Digging Deep?” Why is writing therapeutic? Is this different from talking about illness?

2. Are there any particular groups of children that are more likely to benefit than others? Are there any kids who should not participate?

3. What obstacles or problems are most amenable to journaling? 

4. Is it important for a child to go back and read their journal? If so, is there an optimal time frame?

5. You say on your website you say "Resist the urge to read your child’s journal. Usually, she or he will want to share, in her or his own time.” What do you suggest in terms of process or how to get your child started? I am not sure I could convince my 12-year-old to participate in this activity without making it seem like an English assignment.

6. Is there a difference between journaling about health topic and the practice of keeping a journal for other reasons? Should a health journal be separate from a “regular journal".

7. I have tried journaling several times in the past. I always seemed to fail because I was waiting for the right time or when the inspiration came, I either did not have inspiration or never made the time. Do you have any suggestions for beginning journaling and making it a habit. Any specific suggestions for the young adolescent?

8. It seems that much of the power in Digging Deep comes from the powerful reflections that are brought out in the prompts. Do you think there are any benefits about reflecting on a future state overlooking in the past?

9. What next? What do you recommend after a child goes through the journal?


  1. Smyth JM, Stone AA, Hurewitz, Kaell A. Effects of Writing About Stressful Experiences on Symptom Reduction in Patients with Asthma or Rheumatoid Arthritis. Accessed on December 28, 2014.
  2. Alan Henry. The Benefits of Journal. Accessed December 27, 2014.
  3. Kligler B, McKee MD, Sackett E, Leveson H, Kenney J, Karasz A. An Integrative Medicine Approach to Asthma: Who Responds?. Accessed on December 28, 2014.
  4. Kligler B, Homel P, Blank AE, et al. Randomized trial of the effect of an integrative medicine approach to the management of asthma in adults on disease-related quality of life and pulmonary function. Altern Ther Health Med 2011; 17:10–15. Accessed on December 28, 2014.

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