How Journaling Emotions Helps Us Heal

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“Writing about what you are thankful for each evening can improve sleep.”

Have you been recently wounded physically or emotionally? Grab a pencil and notepad. Turns out, expressive writing about your experience can be beneficial to your health.

In 2013, researchers in New Zealand determined that those with injuries who took up journaling about their feelings healed faster than those who did not pick up a pen. Journaling can be especially effective for those who’ve suffered a brain injury.

“Journaling offers a brain-injured person who is able and willing to write an easy and inexpensive outlet to release and organize emotions,” says Sara Lewis, a speech-language pathologist who sustained a brain injury at 22 and now teaches and speaks frequently on the subject. Lewis leads a support group at The Denbigh House, a program of Community Brain Injury Services in Newport News, Va.

“With practice, [someone who journals] sees himself plan what he wants to write about, focus on the activity, use reasoning skills, and confront emotions and behaviors that could be problematic as he tries to get his old life back,” Lewis says. “In the rehabilitation field, we say that the client who uses journaling as a tool for recovery is practicing both bottom-up and top-down skills: he’s rehabilitating specific cognitive skills like paying attention to and organizing thoughts by practicing them, and he’s using metacognitive skills to think about how his brain injury is affecting his thinking, emotions, and behavior.”

Keeping a journal doesn’t necessarily have to include words. You can use drawings, diagrams, or clippings, or even an audio or video recording.

“Journaling can be extremely helpful,” says Dr. Anthony G. Alessi, associate clinical professor of Neurology and Orthopaedics at the University of Connecticut and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. Alessi says while each patient is different, some of his patients with brain tumors and cancer have found journaling useful.

“I support it,” Alessi says. “I think patients should do it if it helps them feel better. It can be therapeutic. People who are going through cancer treatments with a lot of time on their hands have found it helpful as an outlet for expressing their feelings about what is happening to them and their bodies.”

“Journaling can be powerful,” Lewis adds. “It can change the way you think. Regular journaling increases the body’s immune function and fights off stress, infection, and disease.”

Expressive writing has also helped individuals who suffer from other conditions, including those who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, struggle with infertility, are chronically ill, or have experienced a traumatic event. Journaling has been linked to improved mood and well-being, lowering stress levels and depressive symptoms, and has been shown to lower blood pressure in some instances. Writing about what you are thankful for each evening can also improve sleep.

In general, anyone can benefit from keeping a journal or diary, whether they are sick or not. Journaling helps improve memory, concentration, and patience, and decreases frustration and impulsivity. It’s a relaxing way to get in touch with yourself.

“As a writer, I’ve also used journaling as a way to explore my thoughts and feelings,” Lewis says.

Lewis says journaling is a safe, personal way to plan, vent, or express your thoughts and emotions without judgement. She suggests writing “like a kindergartener,” without worrying about spelling, punctuation or editing your words.

“It’s a place for self-discovery,” she says.

“By becoming more self-aware, I hope [people] will be more successful in communication exchanges with others. I hope that they discover that regular journaling brings them great satisfaction when they are able to go back and read what they wrote previously and see improvement in their thinking processes.”

Journaling Tips

·  Set aside time most days to write, and try to do it at a time when you aren’t rushed

·  Write about your issues or what is causing you stress and worry

·  Write non-stop once you begin for the allotted time

·  Really let go and share your deepest emotions

·  Take time to reflect on what you wrote a few days after writing it down

·  Remember that journaling is a tool that is always available to you

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