Journaling is a simple activity that has an outsized return when practiced regularly. It’s been shown to have significant mental and physical health benefits and to improve a person’s overall quality of life.
In this post, we’re going to examine five science-backed benefits of journaling.
Does journaling help with anxiety and depression?
Numerous studies have shown that journaling can reduce overall levels of depression. A 2006 study by Stice, Burton, Bearman, & Rohde showed that writing in a journal can be as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy when it comes to reducing the risk of depression in young adults.
Studies have also shown that journaling can reduce the frequency of intrusive, depressive thoughts, help college students who are vulnerable to depression, and reduce overall levels of depression in those diagnosed with a Major Depressive Disorder.
There are also benefits of journaling for anxiety symptoms. One study by Hasanzadeh, Khoshknab, & Norozi found that the simple act of journaling reduced anxiety in women who were suffering from multiple sclerosis. Another study found that journaling could help students effectively manage stress and anxiety, as well as improve overall classroom engagement.
How does journaling help with depression and anxiety?
Both depression and anxiety are often accompanied by negative thoughts. Journaling allows you to get these thoughts down on paper, process them in a more analytical, non-emotional way, and then respond appropriately to them.
Social psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker puts it this way:
Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives. You don't just lose a job, you don't just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are — our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves. ... Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.
Instead of simply letting negative thoughts run rampant in your mind, journaling for anxiety allows you to engage with your thoughts and determine whether they are true or false.
This may come as a surprise, but journaling has also been proven to improve overall immune function and decrease your risk of illness. As researchers Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm report, those who journaled for 20 minutes per day on 3-5 occasions saw the following benefits:
How can the simple act of journaling improve your health?
Journaling allows a person to develop what’s called a “coherent narrative” of their life. In other words, it enables a person to take the events they experience and integrate them into their overall perspective on life.
This, in turn, enables a person to think more positively about their life and create a holistic picture of themselves in relation to the rest of the world. It follows that a person with a positive, holistic view of themselves is less prone to things like depression and anxiety, both of which can cause a variety of physical health problems.
In addition to helping overcome depression and anxiety, as well as improving overall physical health, journaling has also been shown to promote gratitude. Why, you ask, is gratitude so important?
Numerous studies have shown that gratitude has specific health benefits. Gratitude is directly tied to things like increased exercise and improved quality of sleep, both of which promote long-term well-being. It has been shown to significantly increase optimism, which indirectly affects both your happiness and your health.
Gratitude is tied to reduced levels of depression, making progress toward goals, and making a person more sociable and friendly.
Here is a video from Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading researcher on gratitude:
When it comes to living a healthy, happy life, gratitude can make all the difference. Journaling allows you to reflect on all the good things in your life, which, in turn, enables you to be grateful. When you don’t journal, it’s easy to forget about all the good things happening in your life and slide into depression or anxiety.
It has also been shown that journaling can help a person recover more quickly from traumatic events. Writing things down allows you to process what has occurred and see the good side of life, even when things are difficult. Journaling also allows you to directly confront the things you’ve experienced instead of avoiding them and not taking the time to process them.
If you’ve experienced the death of a loved one, journaling can enable you to effectively grieve in a manner that’s both healthy and healing. As you journal, you can take the necessary time to remember your loved one, process the loss, and begin to move forward.
A 2002 study by researchers Provencher, Gregg, Mead, & Mueser also found that journaling can speed the recovery of those who are struggling with various psychiatric conditions. Psychiatric conditions are often accompanied by repetitive, intrusive thoughts that can be difficult to process. Journaling allows you to get those thoughts down on paper, process them effectively, and finally dispatch with them.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that journaling can also improve overall memory function. Neurologist Judy Willis says:
The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information… it promotes the brain’s attentive focus … boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain’s highest cognition.
When you journal, you are both recording and processing the events of a particular time period. As you do this, you are remembering and reflecting upon the details of the events, which then helps you retain those memories for a significantly longer amount of time.
Additionally, journaling allows you to analyze past events for patterns. As you look at your journal over time, you may begin to see particular patterns emerge, whether in your own behavior or in the behavior of others. Once you spot these patterns, you can respond appropriately.
If you aren’t journaling yet, I hope these five reasons encourage you to start.
Journaling is incredibly beneficial, both mentally and physically.
It enables you to process the events you experience, which leads to a healthy and holistic view of yourself.
It empowers you to work through trauma, bringing healing to past wounds and insight into the way forward.
It also improves your memory of events and enhances your ability to see patterns in life.
Ready to start journaling? Start today with Reflection.app, a simple app to help you start and keep a meaningful reflection practice.
Not sure where to begin? Learn How to start and keep a meaningful journaling practice.