Write out the good stuff and reminisce later. Write out the bad as a kind of mental detox.
According to studies done at North Carolina State and the University of Texas at Austin, keeping a journal/diary can increase cognitive functioning (exhibited by increased working memory and higher GPAs), and improve overall physical health by decreasing stress. Just keep it honest, and maybe even a little creative. I mean, why not? No one else is looking at it but you (hopefully), and it’s the perfect opportunity to have a conversation with yourself (without freaking people out on the train!).
I’ve never been very dogmatic about daily journaling, but I use a journal as often as possible to work through the past, relish in the present, and shape a vision of the future.
Big ‘tings a gwaan in 2013, and I’m finding my journal absolutely imperative in laying it all out.
To read details on the evidence of journaling’s benefits, check out these articles from Psychology Today and The Chicago Tribune:
Keep a Diary, Reap Cognitive Rewards
Stressed out? Write it out!
Keeping a journal can jump-start your working memory–which impacts attention and problem-solving—and may improve academic performance, according to Kitty Klein, Ph.D., a psychology professor at North Carolina State University.
“Stressful events compete for attentional resources,” explains Klein. “If you can’t concentrate on something, you have all kinds of problems.”
The researchers asked 71 college freshmen to write about adjusting to college, a stressful event, or to keep track of daily activities, decidedly less stressful. Each group wrote for 20 minutes on three occasions. After seven weeks, working memory skills were evaluated with arithmetic and vocabulary tests
Subjects who wrote about stressful feelings scored higher than those who simply recorded the days’ events.
To find out why, Klein instructed 111 students to write about an extremely negative or extremely positive experience with the caveat that they think deeply about the subject. A control group focused on a neutral experience: time management.
Three months later, students who had written about unpleasant events reported a significant decrease in intrusive thoughts related to the experience. In addition, their working memories improved by 11 percent and their GPAs improved during that semester and the next.
The other groups showed little improvement in working memory or GPA. The results were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
To reap benefits of journaling, don’t hold back on emotions
October 30, 2005|By Czerne M. Reid, Knight Ridder/Tribune news
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Keeping a journal can be good for your health.
Writing helps people reduce stress, concentrate better and handle emotionally demanding situations. It also can reduce the negative impact of traumatic experiences.
To reap the health rewards, writers should really “let go” and explore their thoughts and emotions.
“Research suggests that when people write about emotional upheavals in their lives, improvements in physical and psychological health can result,” said James W. Pennebaker, chair of the department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who has discovered the link between expressive writing and health benefits.
Writing reduces stress by helping people to acknowledge an experience, Pennebaker said. It also enables them to put together the pieces of an event and understand what happened.
By enabling clearer thinking, expressive writing helps individuals get past trauma. It also helps them improve their social relationships as they get better at talking, laughing and being more at ease with others, Pennebaker said.
Through writing, people are able to observe their patterns of behavior and how they handle various situations, said George Holmes, a psychologist at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.
“If you have to write something, you have to sit down, reflect on the events, put them in some kind of order,” he said. “And as you’re doing that, there’s a certain level of mastery of the situation or anxiety that occurs.”
But although “spilling the guts” can be healthy in some situations, it might not be in other cases, according to psychologist Louise Sundararajan, a psychologist at Rochester Psychiatric Center in New York, who studied college students whose parents divorced.
Writing about neutral subjects can be beneficial, as long as the language used is appropriate to the context of what is being written, Sundararajan reported last month at a meeting of the American Psychological Association.
In some instances, when people are emotionally upset, it might be better to focus on things other than the trauma, Holmes said.
Creative expressions such as poetry also help people to capture moments and channel their feelings, said Holmes, a fledgling poet.