Write it Out!
Quite often when people talk about mental health and helpful lifestyle choices, they mention exercise, healthy eating and the importance of getting a sufficient amount of sleep. But what about something a little simpler? A 2018 mental health article in U.S. News tells us that according to the American Psychiatric Association, journaling can help a person track how they’ve been feeling and functioning over time and how they may have handled difficulties in the past. It can also help them identify areas that they want to focus on or change.
According to U.S. News, writing about an emotionally charged subject or an unresolved trauma helps a person put the event into perspective and helps a person organize their feelings, which ultimately helps them get through it. The mechanisms behind the emotional benefits of writing aren’t entirely understood. Some say that describing your feelings with words may be somewhat cathartic, releasing pent-up feelings that may be dragging you down. Others say that the process of writing enables people to learn to better regulate their emotions because they gain a sense of control over upsetting experiences life throws at them.
According to Psycentral.com journaling can:
- Clarify your thoughts and feelings.
- Help you know yourself better.
- Reduce stress which ultimately can improve health and wellbeing.
- Help a person solve problems more effectively.
- Help solve disagreements by looking at things from another point of view.
Not only can keeping a journal be helpful during times of stress, but it can also be helpful when things are going well. It provides a snapshot of what happened in a person’s life and their feelings about it. The more a person writes, the more likely it is to become part of their everyday routine. If something unexpected does happen in that person’s life, then they already have an outlet where they can express their emotions and thoughts in a healthy way.
Although some researchers recognize that writing may not be helpful to everyone, many agree that the key to writing’s effectiveness is in the way people use it to interpret their experiences, right down to the words they choose. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that venting emotions alone whether through writing or talking is not enough to relieve stress and thereby improve health, rather people must use journaling to better understand and learn from their emotions
If you are interested in adding this activity to your daily routine, U.S. News provides some examples of questions or prompts to help those new to journal writing:
- What was the biggest challenge I faced today?
- Did I feel anxious, frustrated or angry today?
- Did I have a positive interaction with another person today?
- Did I have a negative interaction with another person today?
- I am most worried about …
- I am grateful for …
According to U.S. News, 2018, APA notes that there is no “right way” to journal. Write any way you feel comfortable – on paper, on your computer, even by jotting notes on your smartphone. The object is to write every day, if possible, for at least 20 minutes. “Write quickly, write what feels right and don’t stress over grammar or punctuation,” the organization recommends. The Georgia State University Counseling and Testing Center (CTC) has free individual therapy and group counseling to help students express their feelings and manage their emotions. The center also provides meditation and mindfulness classes.