The Write Way to Wellness
How Journaling Can Help You Connect to a Healthier Self
by Kathleen Adams
It’s no secret that writing down thoughts, feelings, frustrations, experiences, and life lessons in a notebook or journal (or on a computer screen) helps preserve memories for the future. But are you aware that writing in a journal can also have health benefits?
For 25 years there has been evidence-based research conducted on the correlation between writing down stressful life experiences and positive physiological changes. These benefits can include increased immune-system functioning, symptom reduction in disease severity, and a sense of release and closure from troubling events of the past. Here are 10 reasons why writing it down helps, each with a writing prompt to help you get started.
Immediacy and availability. A journal is available at 3 am, during a migraine, in the doctor’s waiting room, when no one on your support list is at home. A journal’s immediacy lessens the need to rely on the kindness of strangers or the patience of health-care professionals, family, and friends.
Describe some of the times when you’ve desperately wished you had someone to talk to.
Catharsis and insight. The important work of healing often brings with it a host of perfectly normal but difficult feelings—anger, fear, despair, frustration. Your journal absorbs these feelings without judgment, censure, or reprisal, and the insight gained from catharsis is an important step in healing.
What feeling is the most difficult for you to understand or express right now? Blast away—incomplete sentences or bullet-point lists are perfectly fine!
Unconditional acceptance and silent friend. As one journal-keeper said, “My journal has become the archetypal friend. I have used and abused it more than any person would have tolerated. But it was always there waiting for me, totally accepting, totally present. I could ignore it, discount its value, and it never took offense. I never had to start over. I never had to apologize. What a blessed gift!”
Write a letter to someone who has offered unconditional acceptance to you—no matter how long ago it was.
Observe health-enhancing cycles and patterns. Our habitual behaviors either promote wellness or contribute to discomfort and disease. Observing behaviors through charts, logs, or reflections offers valuable data that can be used to maximize wellness.
Which of your habits promote wellness? Which contribute to discomfort or disease? Divide a page in two vertically and make two lists.
Get to know different parts of yourself. Learning to listen to and communicate with your bodymind, Inner Healer, dream symbols, and other energetic aspects of the Self is one of the great gifts of journalkeeping.
Close your eyes and imagine your healthier Self. What does s/he look like? Feel like? What are his/her habits? Jot notes, or write a character sketch or profile.
Strengthen intuition and inner guidance. It is simply amazing how much wisdom we hold within us, and how reliably we can access it just by turning inward, asking sincere questions, listening, and writing down what we hear.
Experiment with this by posing an open-ended question to your intuition, then sitting in silence until you feel an inner prompting. Then write down a response.
Expand creativity. Once initial discomfort and resistance to writing is overcome, you may find that writing can be a reassuring, nurturing, safe, creative outlet for thoughts and feelings. This increased flexibility with the creative process often leads to spontaneous brainstorming of options and choices for wellness.
After you’ve completed the intuition exercise in example six, brainstorm a list of 10 creative ways you could advance the answer you received. Don’t hold back! Anticipate surprises.
Self-empowerment and self-esteem. Journal writing encourages self-reliance and self-responsibility. The healing journey is literally mapped out, one page at a time, and the accumulation of life experience and wisdom adds up to the recognition that we are, in fact, the predominant creative forces in our own lives.
How do you empower yourself in your healing journey?
Release past hurts and judgments. Holding on to the past is a sure-fire energy drain. Resentment, guilt, blame, and bottled-up grief block access to the Healer Within. The safe container of your journal receives it all, filling up and becoming more in the process, and prepares you to release old wounds to extend forgiveness to yourself and others.
What past hurts and judgments would you like to release and forgive? Write a rant—let yourself blow off steam and be socially inappropriate.
Witness to healing. The journal provides an ongoing record of the healing journey. Months and years down the road you can look back at past volumes to assure yourself that you are making progress, that you are able to master wellness principles, and that you can heal.
Date your page one year from today and let your healthier Self write you a letter.
Kathleen Adams, LPC, is the founder and director of the Center for Journal Therapy in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of six books on therapeutic writing.