Did you know journalling is good for you? Whether you want to publish or not, the very act of writing about your experiences carries long-term physical and mental health benefits. I’ve long been an avid journaler, and it’s such a daily routine for me now that I get a bit anxious when i don’t do it (which thankfully, isn’t very often).
Read on for a smattering of the benefits of keeping a handwritten journal, and how you can maximise these benefits with the right writing practise.
1: Journalling makes you mindful
If mindfulness can simply be explained as paying focussed attention to one thing at a time, then by sitting down to focus on writing in our handwritten journal each day, we’re giving ourselves the gift of mindfulness.
See, you don’t have to meditate on a mantra or practise hours of yoga to be mindful. For people like me, with a monkey brain that’s always chattering and overthinking and analysing, this is good news. Writing is my meditation, and it carries the same benefits!
Why is mindfulness such a hot topic these days? Well pandemic or not, we live in the age of digital distraction, so it’s almost a holy sacred power to be able to focus on something without looking at a device or talking to someone or having to go and task switch in between.
Practising mindfulness helps us improve our concentration, which psychologists call ‘focussed attention.’ The good news is that focussed attention can be learnt and improved – so by journalling for just 15 minutes a day – and that is, without doing anything else during that time – studies on brain neuroplasticity show that we can increase our attention span.
2: Mindfulness improves ALL aspects of our health
Hundreds of studies into mindfulness show the benefits in treating depression, anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, substance abuse, heart disease, eating disorders, and so many other mental and physical ailments. There are absolutely no bad effects to adding a dose of mindfulness to your day – and it’s proven to reduce anxiety.
But if, like me, you never felt like you could get mindful meditation right, journalling for mindfulness might be easier for you. For me, I need something to focus on – a task, a question, a reflection. These are what I pour into my journalling practise to make it mindful, and to ensure that the writing I do in my journals both elevates my mood and leaves me feeling empowered.
3: Journalling reduces pain!
Of the hundreds of studies into the physical benefits to journalling, my absolute favourite was the hospital study which tasked one group of asthma and arthritis patients to write about stressful experiences, and the other to write about ‘neutral’ experiences. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and you can access a summary here.
Guess which patients had the biggest improvements to their long-term health? The ones who wrote about the most stressful experiences of their lives! This is such an interesting study when it comes to the power of memoir writing. Memoir is, in essence, a collection of memories – so it’s as though by writing our way through our memories we get to sift through them and put them out in a tangible form that we can actually grasp – rather than keeping them in the heady hazy (and somewhat sinister) catacombs of our unconscious mind.
There’s a certain power to becoming the narrator and the storyteller of our own lives, which is one of the reasons I absolutely love journalling in a certain way for long-term benefits. Other studies show that when we’re stressed, writing about how (and what) we’re feeling calms us down. It’s as though the effort of concentrating long enough on unravelling the story across the page is enough focussed attention to take us out of the story and put us firmly in the director’s chair.