Science of Writing / Journaling

WRITING / JOURNALING is a practice that dates back to at least the 10th century in Japan. Writing has been integrated into therapy for years through the form of logs, journaling, letters, and other forms to help people cope with stress and trauma.  Journaling and writing are practices that are scientifically shown to support emotional regulation, relieve stress, boost the immune system, and promote psychological and physical well-being.  

The British journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment reports that health outcomes include:

  • Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
  • Improved immune system functioning
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved lung function
  • Improved liver function
  • Fewer days in hospital
  • Improved mood / affect
  • Feeling of greater psychological well-being
  • Reduced depressive symptoms before examinations
  • Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms

The behavioral outcomes include:

  • Reduced absenteeism from work
  • Quicker re-employment after job loss
  • Improved working memory
  • Improved sporting performance
  • Higher students' grade point average
  • Altered social and linguistic behavior

Writing can be therapeutic for victims of trauma, stress, and emotional pain, as well as offer physical benefits for people battling terminal or life-threatening illness.  Psychologists James Pennebaker, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin, and Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University suggest that writing about emotions and stress can boost immune function in patients with illnesses such as HIV / AIDS, asthma, and arthritis through strengthening immune cells.  

The key to writing’s effectiveness is understood to be the way that people use it to interpret their experiences.  Writing is most effective when it is not merely used to vent, but is used to better understand and process one’s emotions.  Susan Lutgendorf, PhD, of the University of Iowa suggests that when people derive meaning from their writing, as opposed to just writing for the sake of writing, is when the process can become truly beneficial and therapeutic.  The growth comes from the way in which the experience is perceived and viewed, similar to talk therapy.

Writing enhances activity of both the left and right brain -- the left brain is the analytical and rational side, which is what is accessed when you physically write. When the left brain is working and engaged, the right brain (creative, intuitive) is free to express itself, create, and feel. It removes mental blocks and gives you greater access to all of the parts of yourself allowing you to better understand yourself and the world around you.   

Writing also helps one manage priorities, track symptoms and progress, and offers an opportunity for positive self-talk.