Salutations Radiant Readers!
Today I want to talk about journaling and mental health. I read an article titled “Writing can improve mental health—here’s how” and learned about how journaling can increase self-awareness and boost mental health. I’m going to summarize and paraphrase the article, so be sure to read the article in its entirety to get the full context.
Now, I’ve always been skeptical about journaling because I felt it was similar to venting*. Back in undergrad, in one of my psychology classes, we were taught that venting is a terrible way to cope. Apparently, through venting, we relived the moment that caused distress again, which wouldn’t help us calm down. To me, it made sense. Through venting, I would be putting myself back into the unpleasant time, remember how I felt, the thoughts I had, and my desire to not be in that situation. Why would anyone want to relive an unpleasant event all over again?
The “Writing to improve mental health” article began by laying out the theory that writing helps unbottle emotions. I scoffed at that and thought about how writing tended to have a similar effect on me as venting did. Just another article about writing to release. Right? Well, no. I was wrong.
What I initially learned was taught to me back in at least 2011. Science is constantly changing, especially in psychology. This article stated that recent studies show that writing may increase self-awareness, which could be the main effect journaling has on mental health. Now I’m listening.
Journaling creates an act of self-reflection (i.e., self-awareness), making us more aware of our thoughts, actions, beliefs, and so on. Additionally, re-reading can provide more insight into our thoughts, behaviors, etc.
So, how can we gain these benefits? With these three types of writing styles:
Expressive writing: wherein we write about our thoughts and feelings relating to a stressful life event. This style is often used in therapeutic settings and is aimed to help us emotionally process something difficult. Research shows that expressive writing can decrease depressive symptoms, anxious thoughts, and perceived distress.
Reflective writing: is mainly used for learning and development. Through reflective writing, our goal is to assess our beliefs and actions; we need to be open, curious, ask ourselves questions, and be analytical. Reflective writing increases our self-awareness by helping us learn from our experiences and interactions. Consequentially, we can improve our professional and personal relationships and work performance.
Creative writing: yes, we are talking about stories, poems, novellas, and novels. While creative writing does make use of our imagination, it can also use our memories and literary devices (think metaphors and similes) to express ourselves. This style is a unique way to explore our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and beliefs. We can also use creative writing as a way to communicate our feelings to others. The original article gives three examples of how creative writing can convey your thoughts and emotions:
1. Writing a science fiction novel to express your concerns about climate change.
2. Writing a children’s story that shows your ideas and beliefs about friendship.
3. Writing a poem from an owl’s perspective as a way to represent your insomnia.
The benefits from this writing style include increased self-awareness and self-esteem and improved mental health.
Ultimately, all three writing styles can help improve our self-awareness and mental health. I think the most important takeaway is, if you’re interested in journaling, find a writing style that suits you.
My aversion to journaling stemmed from being anti-venting and having a lack of direction. Now, I am willing to give journaling a try. The creative writing style appeals to me the most; I minored in English, so creative writing isn’t too far out of my realm. I enjoy thinking up plots for stories from time to time, but I usually never go anywhere with it.
Finding a way to incorporate those ideas into the trauma I’ve dealt with and the PTSD I suffer from maybe a good outlet. I’m not eager to delve into memories that have caused me pain, but I hope to express my feelings and improve my self-esteem and mental health with journaling as a medium.
What are your thoughts on journaling? Will you try it? Will you pass?
For those who already journal: what journaling style do you use? Would you consider modifying the way you write now?
For those who do not journal: do you think it is something you will try? Which writing style interests you?
Let us know your opinions on journaling!
Wishing you well,
*To learn more about venting, read this article titled “6 Virtues, and 6 Vices, of Venting,” by Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. from Psychology Today, published in 2014.
“Writing can improve mental health—here’s how,” is by Christina Thatcher from The Conversation, published June 17, 2021.