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Why journaling could be good for your health

Senior Wellness | Feb 12, 2016

As you patiently wait for winter to pass by so you can fully enjoy the outdoors again, you might want to consider taking up journaling. Numerous studies have shown there are significant physical and mental health benefits by writing every day. There have even been studies that show how journaling specifically benefits seniors. Taking just 20 minutes out of your day to reflect on your thoughts and feelings could drastically improve your life.

The physical benefits of journaling
It may surprise you to learn that writing has some physical healing powers. Nonetheless, some experts have found engaging in expressive writing while recovering from an injury, treatment or illness can actually speed up the healing process.

"Expressive writing is about deeply exploring your memories and experiences."

Expressive writing is a very specific type of writing. As explained in Psychology Today, it is about deeply exploring your memories and experiences and attempting to derive meaning from them. When engaging in expressive writing, you can ignore the conventions of spelling, punctuation and structure in favor of exploration.

Fast Company spoke with experts who outlined the numerous physical health benefits expressive writing can have.

"We know from multiple studies that there are enhancements in immune function, drops in blood pressure, improvements in sleep and drops in other markers of stress," James Pennebaker, psychologist and researcher in expressive writing, told the publication. "People go to the doctor less in the months after EW. Other studies find faster wound healing, greater mobility among people with arthritis, and the list goes on."

Psychosomatic Medicine, a peer reviewed journal from the American Psychosomatic Society, found that expressive writing helped adults heal faster after a biopsy. The study looked at patients ages 64-97 and found about 76 percent of those who engaged in expressive writing fully healed after 11 days. Only about 42 percent of those who did not write in a journal fully healed after the same time period. The Scientific American said one explanation for increased healing in those who wrote in journals is that hormones produced by long-term emotional stress can weaken the immune system. Those who write about stressful events can start to make sense of them and thus reduce the stress levels in their bodies, making it easier to heal.

The psychological benefits of journaling
Writing in a journal may also improve mental health. A report from the University of Tennessee discussed how past studies have found that writing is an ideal form of self-therapy for older adults. One of the most important things expressive writing can do is help people reflect on past and current events and draw meaning from them. According to the report, one major struggle in older adults is finding significance in their many of years of life. Writing, they found, can help do that. The study also found that journal writing helped people pay greater attention to detail in their day-to-day lives. It also resulted in increased confidence.

"Journaling is an ideal form of self-therapy for older adults."

According to Psych Central, journaling will not only help you better understand your thoughts and feelings, but it can also help you solve problems. Writing engages the creative side of your brain, which allows you to take a step back from the analytical way you naturally try to solve problems and take a look at them in a new light. Journaling also reduces stress by allowing you to release your intense feelings onto the page.

How to keep a journal
The American Psychological Association said writing in a journal may not have the same benefits for everyone. Not only does it depend on who you are, but journal writing's effects are also determined by the type of writing you do. To see true improvements in your physical and emotional health, use journaling to deeply reflect on your experiences. Go beyond simply detailing the experiences on the page and move toward trying to understand them. Researcher Joshua Smyth explained to the APA that the true healing power of writing lies in the way it can help us learn more about ourselves.

Psych Central recommends writing for about 20 minutes per day and avoiding concerns about spelling and grammar. Let yourself go, and keep it private. If you know no one else will read it, you won't hold back.