Much has been written about the physical health benefits of expressive journal writing: reduced stress, improved immune system function, reduced depressive symptoms, improved liver and lung function, and reduced blood pressure – to name a few. Of lesser emphasis in research papers and in the general population is a discussion of the social and behavioral outcomes of writing therapy.
Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm in “Advances in Psychiatric Treatment” cite the following social and behavioral benefits of expressive writing (the objective clinical research being conducted primarily by James Pennebaker and associates):
reduced absenteeism from work
quicker re-employment after job loss
improved working memory
improved sporting performance
higher grade point averages for students
altered social and linguistic behavior
Noting that these social and behavioral benefits of journaling include worker productivity, athletic and academic performance and improved life quality, the question then becomes whether there is room for formal journal writing within larger organizational settings.
Many health care entities have incorporated writing therapy as part of cancer and grief recovery treatments. Universities and colleges offer creative writing courses along with writing tutoring services. Hopefully the day will come when businesses and government entities incorporate expressive writing into their employee wellness programs.
For now, though, individuals who seek growth in all areas of their lives can turn to journal writing as a convenient, affordable aspect of overall self-care. As such, I offer the following tips for the casual journaler, interested in overall health and wellness.
Five Tips for the Casual Journaler
Select a quiet journaling place. Maybe add music or a cup of tea. Choose a favorite pen.
Keep an open mind (and heart) about what flows onto the paper. There’s no judge. No jury here. The writing is solely for your benefit.
Write for a minimum of twenty minutes, three times per week. Try long hand. Doodle. Draw. Write.
Start with your thoughts on topics of your interest. Take the stress out of this new aspect of your life. Maybe you’re an avid runner or swimmer and can begin an exercise journal. Or, you love to read and can start a list of favorite books with comments on the plot of characters. If you love to cook, a collection of favorite recipes can turn a blank journal into a treasure.
Just keep writing. In Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” book, the author recommends writing morning papers. Whether you write in the morning, afternoon or evening, the point is to write continuously and regularly without self-judgment. With this stream of consciousness writing (or “brain dump”) out of the way, you are better able to perform in all aspects of your life with clarity, purpose and creativity.