As we look at ways to “Live in the Now,” we asked author, blogger, and book coach Erin K. Casey to guide us through the benefits of journaling. Her summer series highlights some of the beneficial aspects of personal writing. We look forward to hearing how journaling helps you live in the now.
If there was something you could do that could potentially improve your mental, emotional, and physical health, would you do it?
If you’re a skeptic, your gut response to that question may be, What’s the catch?, How much does it cost?, or Do I have to wear a mask?
And who could blame you? Quick fixes and miracle cures have never been pushed so forcefully and haphazardly as they have been in the first half of 2020. Scams, misinformation, and contradicting voices abound.
Well, you can lower your defenses and your mask. The only catch is that this activity may take a few minutes of your day. The cost? Somewhere between $0 and $50, depending on how fancy you want to get with your supplies.
The activity? Writing. Or, more precisely, journaling.
Writing about one’s day, feelings, relationships, and fears, can be highly beneficial—even if the words are never again read by a single soul. Multiple studies, in fact, have shown measurable improvements to mental, emotional, and physical health—even faster healing—in those who develop a habit of journaling.
Why? The answer boils down to stress and how we respond to it.
Feeling Stressed? Start Writing.
When you experience prolonged, negative stress—let’s say, caused by the fear of illness, job loss, and more togetherness than your family is used to—you feel its effects in the form of threadbare patience, worn emotions, sleep disruption, and a weakened immune system. Functional medicine practitioner Randy James, MD notes, “If you are on your last nerve, you are more likely to get sick.”
It’s impossible to avoid stress altogether. The reality is that life has its ups and downs, and sometimes there are years like 2020 in which 1 in 5 Americans file for unemployment and COVID-19 has everyone’s attention. That said, learning to control your response to stress can have a profound and positive impact on your overall well-being—from the strength of your immune system to your mental health to your relationships.
Stress-management is one of the primary perks of journaling, so it makes sense that those who journal regularly often experience other physical, emotional and mental health benefits. A myriad of factors are at play here, but let’s consider just one:
Imagine holding a 25-pound rock all day and all night. If you can hold a toddler, you know you can manage holding that rock, at least for a while. But what if you had to hold it all day and sleep with it on your chest at night? Could you do it? Probably. Would you get tired? Undoubtedly. And it would be way easier to get some rest if you didn’t have that rock putting pressure on your chest all night.
That rock is your stressor—the worry that keeps you up at night, the thing that distracts you throughout the day.
Self-expression and reflection through journaling helps us to clarify and work through concerns and fears. Many times, simply writing about your stressor can lessen its weight. It’s as if writing about what bothers us allows us to put down that concern. It doesn’t mean that rock isn’t still there or valid; it just means we don’t have to hold onto it every moment of the day and night. Our minds are freed to think about and enjoy more positive things, and we feel less stressed. As our stress levels decrease, our sleep quality may improve. As sleep quality improves, so may the body’s immune system and recovery ability.
Discover the Benefits of No-Guilt Journaling
Journaling is a tool you can use to manage stress which may in turn provide a number of other health benefits. But if it becomes something you feel you have to do, it may seem like one more item on your already-too-long to-do list. That’s where no-guilt journaling comes in.
If you are a person who thrives on routine, journaling nightly may be something you enjoy. Put a journal and pen on your nightstand and set aside 15 to 20 minutes each evening to write about your day.
If you’re anything like me, however, you may have a difficult time developing a routine of journaling. I used to feel guilty about that—like I was doing it wrong. What I’ve realized about myself is that there are few things that I do consistently every day. Making myself journal turned what should be relaxing into a chore.
The good news is that you don’t have to journal daily to enjoy the benefits. Some studies report that 15 to 20 minutes 3 to 4 times a week is ideal. If you can manage that, excellent. I’ve found that what’s most valuable is to write when I feel stressed or sad. There are times when that means I write every day and times when I go a week or more between entries, and that’s okay. Do what works for you.
I encourage you to try some no-guilt journaling this summer. That means write when you want, for as long as you want, as often as you want, and about whatever you want. Reflect on the good as well as the bad. Make note of what you’re thankful for and what concerns you. Identify the rocks and lay them down. My bet is that you’ll find yourself sleeping a little better at night.
Erin K. Casey is a B/CS native with a love for Tex-mex and traveling. She is the founder and chief instigator at MyWritersConnection.com where she helps authors bring their books to life. Her own books include Get Personal: The Importance of Sharing Your Faith Story and the Zany Zia Hats to Where series for middle-grade readers. Connect with her at TheRoamingTexan.com.
“Coronavirus frontline, here is the best thing you can do (for any illness),” True Life Show podcast, Kevin Miller and Randy James, MD, March 12, 2020.
Kristine Lynn Haertl & Adrienne Maiers Ero-Phillips (2019) The healing properties of writing for persons with mental health conditions, Arts & Health, 11:1, 15-25, DOI: 10.1080/17533015.2017.1413400.
“Write to Heal” in SA Mind 24, 5, 17 (November 2013), doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind1113-17b.