Can you write the blues away? Discover Therapeutic Journaling ...
"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn" ~ Anne Frank
Life is full of upsets. Every day something will happen that disappoints, angers or scares us.
What do we do when things upset us?
We are masters of avoidance.
More often than not we push it down inside, pretend it doesn't matter, lock it away and get on with life.
While this works for a bit, as life goes on there are so many things that we've locked away without dealing with, that the pressure begins to build and we find it harder and harder to keep the tensions contained.
This video gives a great visual demonstration of what happens when we keep on pushing negative feelings down inside without dealing with them.
Sometimes we'd rather keep the bad things buried deep inside where it feels they're safe and out of harms way. Often we don't feel able to discuss our worries, resentments or inner most thoughts with others. Not only can they feel too upsetting, they can often be too embarrassing or shameful to admit to ourselves, let alone someone else.
But, as the old saying goes, "A problem shared is a problem halved".
Therapeutic journaling is a simple and effective way to stop things from building up inside, like a pressure cooker ready to pop.
If you feel like this, then you should probably give journaling a try!
I use this strategy regularly with clients to help them deal with current, and past, stressors. Not only does it give an outlet for pent up emotion, it also helps them see the issue objectively and gain a sense of perspective.
What is Therapeutic Journaling?
Simply put, therapeutic journaling is writing down your thoughts and feelings without censor - getting it all out. I like to think of it as vomiting all those negative thoughts and feelings on to paper, which can make you feel great afterwards!
I remember one journaling session I did where I started digging into an issue I had avoided and held onto for many years. As the anger, resentment and shame flooded onto the paper, it felt as though a festering boil had been lanced - the pressure was released and I felt the poison leaving my body. A wonderful feeling of liberation.
People have been writing their private thoughts and secrets to their diaries for centuries. An honest out-pouring of emotions is genuinely good for the soul - and the body.
How can Therapeutic Journaling help me?
Through clinical studies, therapeutic jornaling has been shown to:
- Reduce pain [1, 2]
- Allow healthier emotional reactions [2, 3, 4, 5]
- Reduce fatigue 
- Improve sleep quality and duration 
- Reduce symptoms of depression [8, 9]
- Reduce stress reactions in relation to a traumatic event 
- Reduce and regulate heart rate 
Can Journaling be Harmful?
If you have an existing mental health problem or have experienced particularly traumatic events in your life, you may find that journaling is too direct and upsetting initially. This is not to say that journaling cannot be used, but that other strategies and treatments may be necessary first in order to enable you to reach the point of feeling able to journal safely.
In this case, I would recommend therapeutic journaling be used under the supervision and guidance of a trained practitioner.
Therapeutic Journaling - Getting Started
Therapeutic journaling involves 2 parts: firstly writing unsent letters to people who may have upset us in the past, or exploring our emotions in relation to a traumatic or upsetting event in the past. Secondly, putting the event into perspective, reframing it and moving on.
This usually takes more than one attempt to work through the layers of emotion that we hold. For more information about this I would recommend reading one of these books:
- Journaling for Health - ebook by Georgie Oldfield
- Writing to Heal: Change your life through journaling and stories by Jacqui Malpass
A good way to start journaling is to to do a daily 10 minute blast onto paper. This helps to stop day to day things building up and causing problems.
- Find a place where you won't be interrupted. You may have to tell family what you're doing or just ask them not to interrupt you for 10 minutes.
- Get some paper - any will do
- Take a few deep breaths to focus your mind.
- Start scribbling any negative thoughts or feelings onto the paper. Don't over think it. Don't plan it. Just let rip. It doesn't even have to be legible as no-one is ever going to see it. It can be as petty or silly as you like - it doesn't matter. The important thing is to get it out. Acknowledge it. Sometimes you have to search around inside as we often hide things away from ourselves - maybe ask yourself - Am I annoyed about anything? Am I upset or dissapointed by anything?
- Once you have said everything you want to say - ask yourself: Are there any practical steps I can take to make this situation better? Make a plan.
- Then take a look at the situation and try to Reframe it - has anything good come out of it? Have you learnt anything?
- Try to put it into perspective - is it really as bad as you thought? Could there be another explanation? If it were a friend in a similar situation, what advise would you give them?
- Finish off with writing 3 things you are grateful for that day
- And finally - destroy the writing! Rip it up, burn it, scribble over it - whatever feels right to you.
You will find this a great tool to use in many, many situations.
Something's upsetting you? Journal it.
Something's winding you up? Journal it.
Something's bugging you but you're not sure what? Journal it!
It's free, it's always available and, best of all, it works!
You will notice a greater sense of calm and well-being begin to spread through you as you do this regularly. Enjoy!
Connecting Mind and Body for Health
 Smyth JM, Stone AA, Hurewitz A et al, 'Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom reduction in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis: A randomised trial.' JAMA 1999; 281:1304-1309
 Jennifer E.Graham, MarciLobel, PeterGlass, IrinaLokshina. (2008) Effects of written anger expression in chronic pain patients: making meaning from pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine 31:3, 201-212. Online publication date: 6-Mar-2008.
 Pennebaker JW, Writing to heal: A guided journey to recovery from trauma and emotional upheaval. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland, CA, 2004
 Pennebaker JW, 'Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process' Psychological Science, 1997; 8:162-6Spiegel D, 'Healing words: emotional expression and disease outcome'. JAMA 1999; 281: 1328-9
 Lepore, S.J. and Smyth, J.M. (2003). The writing cure: How expressive writing promotes health and emotional well-being. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
 Gortner EM, 'Benefits of expressive writing in lowering rumination and depressive symptoms' Behaviour Therapy, 2006; 37(3), 292-303
 Baikie KA, 'Expressive writing and positive writing for participants with mood disorders: an online randomised controlled trial'. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2012; 136(3), 310-19