The Studied Effect of Chronicling Your Life
For many of us, the last earnest attempt at journaling we made was somewhere very painful in our adolescence.
And it probably had something to do with a crush on a classmate or a lamentation about the relentlessness of human suffering…
Because of that association, many adults find the concept of journaling childish.
But the benefits of journaling extend far beyond getting some worries off of your chest.
In fact, the market for adult journaling has practically exploded in the last few years — ever heard of bullet journaling?
In 2019, the hashtag #bulletjournal collected at least 2 million posts on Instagram. Sales for unruled spiral, composition, graphing, and other notebooks rose 18% during the same time.
Okay, so what?
So journaling has hit a popularity surge and it’s no longer considered juvenile. Here’s the game changer — journaling is good for you.
And lots of researchers are looking into why.
It comes down to three primary areas of health measuring: physical, mental, and emotional.
Simply the act of journaling is beneficial, regardless of what you’re choosing to record and give life to. Once you can get over the initial hurdle of putting pen to paper, working through whatever comes up can do wonders to not only adjust your attitude but your ease and comfort in the world.
Let’s break it down by each individual area.
Physical Health Benefits
Believe it or not, expressing yourself via the written word can actually improve the functioning of your immune system.
With increased immuno-efficiency comes the increased resistance to diseases like asthma, AIDS, and cancer.
In fact, journaling has been shown to help:
- Make physical wounds heal faster, according to a study from 2013 in which adults were asked to write about their feelings for 20 minutes a day, three days a week, and then take a biopsy at the end of two weeks. 76% were healed at the end of it.
- Lower your blood pressure in as little as four months by spending 15–20 minutes a day, three to five times per week.
- Release dopamine through blogging, according to one study.
- Fortify immune cells called T-lymphocytes and reduce the frequency of illness.
This is because as any comprehensive scientist knows, our experiences of physicality are far from independent of our mental lives.
Try to recall the details of the last month of your life. That’s it, just the most recent 30 days.
How much can you remember?
It likely isn’t very much, which although shocking, is incredibly common. Journaling seeks to correct this cognitive dissociation, this endemic absenteeism.
Turns out, the physical act of scratching a pen onto paper or typing the written word increases memory capabilities, comprehension, working memory capacity, and cognitive processing.
In other words, it flexes and trains the muscles in your analytical left-brain to implant events, feelings, and details into your memory bank.
Not only that, but it can actually help you reach your goals.
Instead of letting your brain toss ideas around like a birdie in a badminton game, journaling gives you the chance to identify important feelings. You see, writing something down sends a message to your brain that this thought matters more than other thoughts.
Your reticular activating system (RAS) designs a game plan in your head by functioning sort of like a search engine — it sifts through your available resources and pings anything relevant to your written thought.
Accomplishing goals has its own snowball effect in terms of mental elasticity and confidence.
Which directly applies to your emotional state.
The emotional benefits of journaling are boundless.
Let’s start with some obvious ones. Journaling allows you to have:
- A limitless physical space to dump your thoughts onto.
- A canvas on which to organize and prioritize them.
- An uninterrupted period of time for you to explore your own thoughts without having to make room for someone else’s, as you would in a therapeutic conversation.
- A record of your feelings to return to and reflect upon.
- A personalized database of emotional responses which you can link to triggers or traumas.
And through journaling, studies have shown that you can manage your stress levels, experience an overall sense of well-being, become connected with your actual needs and wants, regulate your emotions with agency, and unravel your reality from the story you’ve told yourself about your reality.
So What Now?
If you’re an experienced journaler and you’ve just fallen off the wagon, you know what you need to do.
Pen. To. Paper.
If you’ve never journaled a day in your life, follow these steps:
- Obtain a journal. It can be the plainest black and white composition notebook, a beautiful leather traveling journal, or a neat graphic design you picked up at a bookstore. But it should feel like something you’ll be comfortable writing in anywhere.
- Open the journal. Grab a pen. Write the date on the first page.
- Set a timer for 15 minutes. If you go over 15 minutes, great. But don’t stop writing until the time is up.
- Begin. Don’t edit. Don’t worry about spelling or vocabulary or being derivative or boring. Don’t think about future-you reading this journal and being embarrassed at your lack of foresight or clumsy phrasing.
- If you can’t think of anything to write about, try one of these prompts:
- Write your day, from start to finish.
- Write your last love story.
- Write about a pervasive negative thought pattern.
- Write about the job you’d have if money were no object.
- Write a letter to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.
Anything to get the ball rolling!
And remember — it isn’t school.
It won’t be judged or graded. Your handwriting doesn’t matter, the quality of your insights doesn’t matter, and you don’t have to cite your sources.
This is a sliver of time carved out in the world for you and only you.
Use it well.
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