July 30, 2020

The Many Benefits of Journaling

By Wellnest

You may be familiar with the positive effects of journaling: it calms and clears the mind, enhances creative thinking and problem solving, and it creates a written record of your experiences, feelings, and ideas, which can be useful today and priceless in the future.

But journaling can actually improve your quality of life on a much deeper level.

Studies suggest that journaling can enhance all three key aspects of your life: physical, mental, and emotional health.

When these three ingredients are cared for and in alignment, human beings thrive. 

How Does Journaling Improve Physical Health?

Believe it or not, the simple act of journaling can strengthen your immune system and decrease your risk of illness. Studies show that even infrequent expressive writing (a form of journaling) was enough to lower blood pressure and improve liver function. 

Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and improves the length and quality of sleep, leading to long-term improvements in your physical, mental, and emotional health.

You might be thinking: How is it possible that journaling can do all of this?

To appreciate the physical benefits of journaling, we need to understand how chronic stress affects the body.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

When you encounter a perceived threat – such as a large dog barking at you during your morning walk – your hypothalamus, a small area of the brain which maintains your body’s internal balance (called homeostasis), sets off an alarm system in your body. 

The alarm system then tells your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, particularly adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and boosts your energy supply. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, and halts functions that are nonessential in a fight-or-flight situation. 

When a perceived threat has passed, your hormone levels return to normal, and you exit fight-or-flight mode. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and your body returns to homeostasis.

But when stressors are always present and you always feel under attack, your fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.

If left on, the stress-response system can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This puts you at increased risk of health problems including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

Back to the question at hand: The reason journaling can improve physical health is because journaling is an amazing way to reduce stress. 

Journaling helps you let go of negative thoughts, come to terms with stressors, and work towards finding solutions to your problems. This can break the cycle of constantly feeling under attack, and reduce the impact of chronic stress on your physical health.

How Does Journaling Improve Mental Health?

If you neglect your body, it will slowly deteriorate. The same is true for your mind.

Many years of scientific research has identified journaling as a powerful practice that can help alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

Numerous studies discuss journaling’s effect on mental health: 

  • Journaling has been proven to reduce the rumination and brooding of college students who are vulnerable to depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • Journaling can increase your levels of optimism, which will directly impact your health and happiness.
  • By keeping a daily journal, your commitment and discipline to follow through with your goals will improve.
  • Three days of expressive writing (20 minutes per day) reduced the symptoms of people who were diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. 
  • Studies show that after just 12 weeks of journaling, people showed decreased mental distress and improved overall wellbeing.
  • Journaling can also help you to solve your problems more easily; just like talking to a friend about problems helps reduce stress and provides relief, writing in a journal helps clarify the problems in your own mind, reduces rumination, and allows you to concentrate on finding a solution.
  • Journaling can encourage exercise, reduce physical pain, and increase the length and quality of sleep, which can alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Gratitude journaling has been shown to be a powerful tool for improving mental health. Studies have shown that people feel more optimistic and happy about life after writing a few sentences about gratitude each week. 

It’s clear that setting aside a few minutes a day to journal can go a long way to improve your mental health.

Journaling can help you maintain a positive outlook on life, allow you to confront and overcome negative thoughts and emotions, and alleviate symptoms of poor mental health.

If you’re looking for a simple and convenient way to improve mental health, journaling can make a big difference. The benefits of journaling are substantial and, importantly, journaling is highly accessible for everyone.

How Does Journaling Improve Emotional Health?

First, it might be helpful to highlight the difference between mental and emotional health. 

Mental health can be defined as how well you process information and experiences, while emotional health pertains to how well you manage and express your emotions. You can struggle with your mental health while being emotionally healthy or vice versa.

Important note – having good emotional health doesn’t mean that you’re always happy or that you don’t feel stress. Emotional health is about having the skills and resources to manage the ups and downs of daily life.

Characteristics of an emotionally healthy person:

  • Self-awareness: Self-awareness is how a person consciously knows and understands their own character, feelings, motives, and desires. This ability can be strengthened, like a muscle, through journaling practices. 
  • Self-acceptance: Self-acceptance means you accept yourself despite your flaws, failures, and limitations. Self-acceptance is steady and unconditional. 
  • Self-care: An emotionally healthy person regularly practices self-care. Taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health is essential for your well-being.
  • Coping skills: Practicing coping skills when times are good will help you stay resilient when you hit some turbulence. Adversity is inevitable, and emotionally healthy people regularly develop their ability to deal with stress. 

What does poor emotional health look like?

  • People without optimal emotional health will likely show signs of stress. They may verbally snap at those around them. 
  • Low rates of emotional health are directly linked with higher rates of depression (Kowalenko et al., 2002).
  • Repression of emotions directly impacts your physical and psychological health (Jainish, 2019). Repressing disruptive emotions in favor of an appropriate outward appearance contributes to lower levels of overall well-being. 
  • Since your physical, mental, and emotional health are intertwined, it’s not surprising that emotional distress can leave people more susceptible to physical illness. Studies suggest that ailments like cardiovascular disease and immune system repression can be linked to emotional distress (Stewart-Brown, S., 1998). 

How can journaling improve your emotional health?

  • Journaling can help you shift from a negative mindset to a more positive one, especially about ourselves, enhancing our self-acceptance. 
  • Journaling can help you face personal adversity and change, and emphasize important patterns and growth in life.
  • Journaling helps the brain regulate emotions, and facilitates the development of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and coping skills.
  • Journaling allows you to fully explore your emotions, release tension, and fully integrate your experiences into your mind (Scott, 2018).
  • Journaling helps develop your ability to explain emotions with a positive explanatory style, which aids people in preventing depression (Kowalenko et al., 2002).
  • Journaling helps you detect your emotional triggers, which heightens your self-awareness.
  • Journaling facilitates personal growth by developing a record of key lessons and ideas that you’ve discovered on your own. It also helps you remember everything more effectively.

If you feel like your thoughts and emotions are getting the best of you, consider starting a regular journaling practice. Journaling is a great way to develop your emotional health, and Wellnest has engaging guided question packs to help you build your emotional health skills. 

Optimize Your Journaling With Wellnest

Wellnest is designed to help you maximize the benefits of journaling. 

The Wellnest app leverages gamification to help you build an enjoyable and effective journaling routine, and offers engaging guided question packs that prompt you to reflect, develop, and explore your mind.

Best of all, Wellnest enables a seamless voice journaling experience, so your thoughts can flow freely in a fraction of the time. 

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