The Benefits of Journaling for Stress Management

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What Is Journaling?

Journaling can be effective for stress management in many ways.  It generally involves the practice of keeping a diary or journal that explores thoughts and feelings surrounding the events of your life, and there are several different ways to do this. Journaling, as a stress management and self-exploration tool, works best when done consistently, but even occasional, sporadic journaling can be stress relieving when the practice is focused on gratitude or emotional processing.

One of the most effective ways to reduce stress with journaling is to write in detail about feelings and thoughts related to stressful events, as one would discuss topics in therapy, and brainstorm solutions, but there are several different ways to practice journaling.  The method you choose can depend on your needs at the time, and your personality; just do what feels right.

What Are The Benefits of Journaling?

Journaling allows people to clarify their thoughts and feelings, thereby gaining valuable self-knowledge. It’s also a good problem-solving tool; oftentimes, one can hash out a problem and come up with solutions more easily on paper. Journaling about traumatic events helps one process them by fully exploring and releasing the emotions involved, and by engaging both hemispheres of the brain in the process, allowing the experience to become fully integrated within one’s mind.  Journaling can also help you to focus on areas of your life that you're like to focus on more often, as is the case with gratitude journaling or even coincidence journaling.

As for the health benefits of journaling, they've been scientifically proven. Research shows the following:

  • Journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions.
  • It improves cognitive functioning.
  • It strengthens the immune system, preventing a host of illnesses.
  • It counteracts many of the negative effects of stress.

    What Are The Drawbacks to Journaling?

    Those with learning disabilities may find it difficult to deal with the act of writing itself. Perfectionists may be so concerned with the readability of their work, their penmanship, or other periphery factors that they can’t focus on the thoughts and emotions they’re trying to access. Others may get tired hands, or be reluctant to relive negative experiences. And, journaling only about your negative feelings without incorporating thoughts or plans may actually cause more stress.  (A simple way to counteract this is to be sure you end your journaling sessions with a few words about potential solutions to your problems, things you appreciate in your life, or things that give you hope in life.)

    How Does Journaling Compare to Other Stress Management Practices?

    Unlike more physical stress management techniques such as yoga or exercise, journaling is a viable option for the disabled. And, although some prefer to use a computer, journaling requires only a pen and paper, so it’s less expensive than techniques that require the aid of a class, book, teacher or therapist, like techniques such as biofeedback or yoga.

    Journaling doesn’t release tension from your body like progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery and other physical and meditative techniques, however. But it’s a great practice for overall stress reduction as well as self-knowledge and emotional healing.

    Sources:
    Anderson CM. Writing and Healing: Toward an Informed Practice. 1999.

    Ullrich, Philip M., M.A.; Lutgendorf, Susan K., Ph.D. Journaling About Stressful Events: Effects of Cognitive Processing and Emotional Expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2002.

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