Journaling and Dealing with COVID
Odds are you write (or type) thousands of words a day. Either at work, writing your to-do list, messaging your mates or even a little “Y” texting back your Chiro that you will be at your next adjustment. But, like most people today you only record the bare minimum. Would you be shocked to know that journaling has been proven to serve more than just something people do in their teens as a mundane chore for school? In an effort to change your mind and forge new habits, I’ll be guiding you through the health benefits. I’ll also cover some “ways to utilise” journaling in this uncertain and extremely stressful time of Covid-19.
Although people have been writing journals for centuries about their life experiences, however, it wasn’t until the 1960’s when people truly saw the therapeutic powers of documenting your internal experience, perspective and reactions to everyday events. Through the act of rereading your journal, you are able to revisit experiences more clearly and thus feel a relief of tension. This has been shown to have mental and physical health benefits.
Despite what many believe, our ancestors did know a thing or two. Increasingly there is growing support for more people to utilise journaling in their everyday lives. Research from James Pennebaker from the University of Texas has shown an increase in immune cells, called T-Lymphocytes, after a period of emotional uncensored writing. Other research has shown a decrease in symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and even asthma. Pennebaker suggests that writing about stressful events can help us “come to terms” with them, using journaling as a stress management tool, thereby reducing the impact of other stressors onto our physical health.
I know what you’re thinking – “Why should I bother to write a couple of sentences in a book to keep me healthier? I already have enough to do in a day”. The act of writing activates the left brain to think rationally and critically, keeping the right side of your brain free to create, appreciate and feel . In short, writing removes the mental blocks we put on ourselves and allows us to use all our brainpower to better understand ourselves, others and the world around us.
Where to Start
- Start Small: 5-10 minutes a day, work up to 20 minutes (most effective daily dose).
- Write Quickly and Freely: don’t allow your brain to put up “should/could” barriers, forget about spelling and punctuation.
- Privacy is Crucial: allow you to write without censorship.
- Consider a Theme: If it helps the juices flow, pick a theme for the day, week, month – frustration, confusion or peace of mind.
- No Rules: The most important rule is there are no rules! These are your thoughts…let your journal represent you in every unique way.
What to Write
Clear Your Thoughts and Feelings
Does it feel like a jumbled mess inside? Confused about your feelings and desires? Take a few deep breaths and list your thoughts and emotions on each (don’t bother editing), this will help ground you with your internal world.
Know Yourself Better
Routine behaviours like journaling help us understand what makes us feel happy and confident. As a result, we clarify which situations and people don’t have our best interests at heart – vital information for our emotional well-being.
Writing down negative emotions and events often helps diminish the intense feelings of anger, sadness and other painful emotions. By doing so you will feel calmer and better able to stay in the present.
Solve Problems More Effectively
Similarly, when our problems are written down in front of us they often become less confronting and solutions come to us sooner. When our left analytical side of our brain can not identify the answer, freeing up the brain fog can allow our right creative and intuition brain to formulate the answer. Writing unlocks this ability and offers the opportunity to find unexpected solutions to daunting tasks.
Resolve Disagreements with Others
When faced with points of view that we seldom understand, writing about them rather than bottling them up can frequently bring simplicity to our misunderstandings, and potentially, an intelligent resolution to the conflict.
Additional to these amazing benefits, journaling provides us with tangible evidence of our personal growth and development as we progress down this journey. We are currently facing an overwhelming and unpredictable time of uncertainty. I hope this article arms you with some tools to look back on previous dilemmas and utilise the lessons learnt to arm yourself for the coming time ahead. Try out journaling during lockdown (when you have the time to start a new skill) to help organise and mitigate your thoughts and begin noticing the benefits.
- Purcell M. The Health Benefits of Journaling. [Last accessed August 11, 2021]. Available from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/
- Scott E. Effective Stress Relievers for Your Life. [Last accessed August 11, 2021]. Available from: https://www.verywellmind.com/tips-to-reduce-stress-3145195.
- Petrie KJ, Booth RJ, Pennebaker JW. The immunological effects of thought suppression. Journal of personality and social psychology. 1998 Nov;75(5):1264.
- Pennebaker JW, Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Glaser R. Disclosure of traumas and immune function: health implications for psychotherapy. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology. 1988 Apr;56(2):239.
- Pennebaker JW, Smyth JM. Opening up by writing it down: How expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain. Guilford Publications; 2016 Jul 15.