Successful people throughout history have kept journals, from presidents to poets, and there is increasing evidence that putting pen to paper has a beneficial impact on both physical and psychological well-being. One surprising study showed that journaling thoughts and feelings after experiencing trauma actually speeds up the healing of physical wounds.
Writing to Cope with Life-Threatening Illness
Expressive writing has also been found to improve the way that cancer patients rated their quality of life and helped them to find new ways to think about their illness. Researchers in that study saw improvements for patients after only one single, 20-minute writing session.
Writing for Recovery from Addiction
For years, therapists have used journals and other writing methods to help people overcome negative experiences. Journaling can also be a safe haven for those going through addiction recovery. Writing down your thoughts and feelings is a simple, yet profound, way to process emotions and to record your personal journey to recovery.
Writing for Stress Management
Part of the benefit of writing is most likely due to the stress-relieving effects of journaling; managing stress plays an important part in today’s personalized medicine. Decreased stress has been shown to correlate with improved immune system functioning.
Find Meaning in Your Experiences Through Writing
How can you make the most of writing’s healing power? Experts advise that you should use writing to try to gain understanding and knowledge from your emotions. It’s important to focus on meaning in order to grow and to experience change in the way you view your experiences. Simply going over experiences in the same way repeatedly isn’t going to help things to get better.
Search for Cause and Effect
One technique that facilities growth through writing is employing the use of cause-and-effect words in your writing. Researchers have found that the more people use words such as “because” and “realize” the more they appear to benefit from journaling.
If you are just getting started with journaling, you may not be sure where to begin. One simple method that has shown to increase ratings of happiness in practitioners is to keep a gratitude journal. Each day write down a few things that you are thankful for in your life. This means to consciously look for things for which to be truly grateful, no matter how small.
Talk with Your Addiction or Illness
Another technique is to write down an imaginary conversation with your addiction or illness. Give it a voice and have a back-and-forth conversation with it. How do you perceive it to look and sound? Having this conversation can often take away the power you may perceive the addiction or illness to have over you.
Learn From Your Dreams
You may want to keep a journal at your bedside so that you can write down your dreams upon awakening. According to one theory of dream interpretation, every item in a dream is an aspect of the dreamer. Sometimes having a conversation with that item, asking it how it feels and what it wants you to know, can be very revealing about your inner state of mind.
Make it a Habit
Is there a specific time of day when you can write without interruption? Try to set a time and make it into a routine. For some people, mornings are the best time, for others, it’s the time before bed, or even during a lunch break. If you can write for at least 20 minutes a day, you are well on your way to establishing a new healthy habit. Moreover, just like any new skill, the more you write, the better you will become at it.
Gain Control Through Writing
By writing down your painful memories and fears, you can expose them for what they really are, just thoughts, and their power can be lessened once you get them out of your head and onto paper. By helping people to manage and learn from their experiences, writing bolsters their immune systems as well as their mental well-being. In this way, writing becomes another important tool for healing.
Elliot Caleira is a freelance writer in the self-mastery and health and wellness spaces. When he's not writing you'll find him cooking or teaching Portuguese classes.