As I mentioned in a previous post, there are so many different ways you can use journaling. So it of course makes sense that there are many different kinds of benefits it can offer as well, depending on how you approach it.
I've shared previously about how journaling has saved my life — both literally and figuratively.
It has also helped me find my calling and create work that I love. To gracefully navigate loss and make meaning of difficult experiences. It's been my way to move past blocks in my work. The source of some of my best ideas. And it regularly helps me reduce stress, clarify priorities, regain perspective — and generally manage myself and my life in ways that are aligned with who I am and what matters most to me.
But don't just take my word for it!
There's so much evidence out there about the MANY benefits that can come when you engage intentionally with this kind of reflective writing.
So I've compiled two lists for you — one highlighting results of scientific research, and the other summarizing some of the benefits others have described in written testimonials.
Keep in mind that neither of these lists is comprehensive...
Benefits of Journaling: Research Evidence
It's hard to make a blanket statement about the benefits of journaling, because there are so many different ways to do it.
Lots of research about writing interventions have used methods that would likely fit with my definition of journaling, but the exact writing topics and techniques studied have varied widely (not to mention the duration and frequency of the writing, as well as the populations being studied).
With that in mind, here are some of the many benefits that research tells us may be possible for you...
1. Task Performance & Goal Pursuit
There's evidence to suggest journaling can help you think better, feel more motivated, and make better progress on your goals. Here are some specific outcomes that have been identified:
- Improvements in working memory — the brain mechanism behind reasoning, planning, problem solving, and other higher order thought processes.
- Improvements in college grade point averages
- Increases in amount of time spent exercising
- Greater likelihood of finding a new job after being laid off
Can journaling help you see yourself in clearer, kinder, and more positive ways? That's what it seems like. Here's what some studies found:
- Increases in self-compassion
- Increases in self-esteem
- Greater ability to name and express one's emotions
- Improvements in body satisfaction and reduction in body image concerns
- Higher likelihood of non-judgmentally acknowledging your mistakes
3. Happiness & Life Satisfaction
Can you feel happier after journaling even if you're writing about a difficult topic? Yes. But give it a little time. Journaling researcher James Pennebaker says writing about a traumatic topic can be like going to a sad movie: It can dampen your mood for an hour or two, but it leaves you wiser — and longer-term can actually produce benefits such as...
- Increases in overall happiness — including months after writing
- Increases in positive emotions, optimism, and gratitude
- Greater life satisfaction
- Reducing negative emotions and (sometimes) depression
- Reducing burnout
4. Stress Reduction
Even when the topic you're writing about is a traumatic one, journaling can lower your stress levels. Here are some of the research findings:
- Reductions in cortisol levels and other physiological markers of stress (e.g., muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration) immediately after writing
- Lower levels of anxiety
- Reductions in PTSD symptoms
5. Interpersonal Relationships
The benefits of journaling can go beyond just you. It appears it can also have positive effects on your relationships with others:
- Greater feelings of connectedness to others
- Higher likelihood of offering help and support to others
- Enhance the quality of your social life (e.g., talking more with others, laughing more easily and often, better listener and communicator, more comfortable socially)
- Preserve the quality of your romantic relationship by writing about your stressors
6. Physical Health
An astonishing number of studies have demonstrated that journaling can improve physical health — beyond the immediate stress reduction benefits mentioned above. Examples include:
- improved immune system functioning (in both healthy and immune-compromised populations)
- reduction of symptoms in chronic diseases such as asthma, arthritis, and IBS
- lowered blood pressure in people with hypertension
- improvements in amount and quality of sleep
- general reduction in physical symptom / complaints
Benefits of Journaling: Testimonials
Do a google search on journaling, and you'll find countless articles in which the authors talk about the positive impact journaling has had on them.
But for an in-depth compilation of journaling testimonials, I don't think you can find a better source than Dialogue House — the go-to site for information and workshops on Ira Progoff's "Intensive Journal" method, which has been around since the 1970's.
Here are some of the many ways that students of that process have found it helpful:
- Productivity — e.g., clarifying what's important in life, building feelings of empowerment, enhancing creativity, enhancing focus and concentration
- Career development — e.g., making a career decision, preventing burnout, planning for a meaningful retirement
- Identity development — e.g., deepening self-awareness and self-understanding, claiming an authentic sense of self, embracing sexual identity, accepting a disability
- Interpersonal growth — e.g., deepen understanding of others, enhancing communication and interpersonal skills, ending dysfunctional relationships
- Spiritual development — e.g., richer spiritual life, feeling connected with God / the transcendent, finding meaning
- General well-being — e.g., reducing stress, enhancing self-care, boosting feelings of gratitude and life satisfaction
- Addiction recovery — e.g., acknowledging the problem, recognizing triggers, working through contributing issues, supporting the 12-step recovery process
- Coping with illness — e.g., recognizing and containing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, coping with a recurrence of cancer
- Trauma recovery — e.g., healing emotionally from childhood sexual abuse, violent crime, disabling accident
- Coping with difficulty — e.g., dealing with the stress of being a caretaker for a sick family member, working through and finding meaning in grief
With all this evidence and enthusiastic support for journaling as a powerful tool, I hope you're convinced to give it a try — or, if you're already journaling, to take your practice even deeper.