|I imagine that you watched at least one or two Olympics events. From the high divers to the runners, from the gold medal winners to those who didn’t place in their events, the commitment and focus of all of the athletes was astounding.
You probably noticed, however, there was not one Olympic event in journaling. Journal writing is a solo, non-competitive sport. What a breath of fresh air in this competitive world! There’s no rivalry, just the goal of fully capturing important moments in your life, expressing your truest feelings, and gaining new insight.
Is there a right way and a wrong way to journal? Absolutely not. Any way that you journal is the correct way, by definition.
Although there’s not a right and a wrong way to journal, there may be an EVEN BETTER way that you can journal: A way that is still uniquely yours, but also incorporates techniques and conceptual methods that widen your horizons, deepen your explorations, clarify your thinking, improve your health, and manage your emotions in ways that you may never have thought of. Hundreds of scientific studies and years of collective study by journal experts have created a large body of knowledge related to journal writing. Once you learn these tips, you may choose to shift your writing so that it’s more effective and satisfying.
Sure you can read about these techniques, but if you want to become an Olympic journaler–one who is committed, focused, and coached (but without the competition!)– take a class in a subject that you’ve been grappling with for a while. Or a class that simply intrigues you and draws you in. The personal attention you get from the teacher, and the interaction with the group is priceless.
Writing and health is the topic of newsletter article, Writing to Heal: Can I Write Myself Well? by John Evans, director of Writing and Wellness Connections.
To your journaling,
Writing to Heal: Can I Write Myself Well?
by John Evans
and release negative effects of stress from their bodies and their lives.– James Pennebaker, Ph.D.i
Wellness and writing are connected in ways we are only beginning to understand and use. The literature of several healthcare professions suggests that for many people wellness and writing can be closely connected, and that writing is useful for obtaining and sustaining emotional, physical, and spiritual health. In fact since the early 1980s, a growing body of research about the physical affects of writing shows that the heart rate lowers and people are more equipped to fight off infections when they release their worries in writing. In addition to coping better with stressful situations, this research shows that writing can have a positive impact on self-esteem and result in work that can help people overcome their own obstacles.
Much of the research about writing and healing was pioneered by James Pennebaker, Ph.D., and is now sustained by others who work in the disciplines of writing, psychology, medicine, counseling, nursing, coaching, hospice and education. The biological underpinnings of writing are currently found in such highly sophisticated and overlapping scientific areas such as: applied psychoneuorimmunologyii, psychobiologyiii, applied psychophysiologyiv, and recent findings in epigeneticsv. However daunting these terms may be, gratefully, no one needs to be an expert in these fields, and no one needs to be a professional writer to benefit from writing. Moreover the writing does not even have to be grammatical or follow any particular form; it only needs to be expressive. Writing-to-heal is even for people who don’t like to write.
Research about expressive writing, the kind of writing that is deeply personal and is written for one’s own eyes only, demonstrates that writing:
Other studies suggest that significant mental and physical health benefits occurred in cancer patients who wrote their deepest feelings and thoughts for thirty minutes daily for five days. Writing about “your best possible self” resulted in a significant boost in mood along with a drop in illness when compared to those who wrote about neutral topics.
Writing is one tool in a toolbox of self-care, and it may be a useful tool for you, but it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all prescription. Writing for wellness may take many forms. Therapeutic value is found in literary genres such as memoirs, essays, fiction, poetry, drama. Whether they are published or not does not negate the positive affect they can have on the writer. Other forms of writing for wellness are unsent letters, lists, logs, journals, and exercises designed to specific health or behavioral concerns.
A very popular form of writing for wellness is writing in a personal journal. Here are a few suggestions:
i James Pennebaker, Ph.D. ., Professor and Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
ii Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body.
iii Psychobiology is the application of the principles of biology (in particular neurobiology), to the study of physiological, genetic, and developmental mechanisms of behavior in human and non-human animals.
iv Applied psychophysiology is the application of interventions such as mindfulness or biofeedback to change the physical response we usually have to something our mind tells us.
v Epigenetics is the study of inherited changes in phenotype (appearance) or gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence, hence the name epi- (Greek: ep?- over, above) -genetics.
I’m excited about the classes that IAJW is offering this fall! We’ve staggered the starting dates to try to accommodate your schedule. The teachers are each high-level, well-respected, and well-trained. Students adore these classes. Below you’ll find a short summary of classes, a teleconference, an IAJW-members only telechat, a free LifeJournal webinar with links to find out more. I hope to see you there–whether you are joining an online class for the first time, or if you’re returning for more. Click around and learn about the different classes, the teachers, and discover some links to bonus information. Taking a class is investing in yourself: You’ll find nuggets of gold within.