6 Surprising Benefits of Journaling for Your Health

By Emma Haggerty

reviewed by Juliana Ascolani

Journaling is a practice that gives us a safe space to vent and think, something we could all use right now. When we’re dealing with difficult emotions, it can be hard to work through them in our heads. By putting those emotions, thoughts, anxieties, or stresses onto paper, you can help unburden your mind and start to understand yourself better. That’s not the only reason to journal, though — it’s worth writing down your thoughts for your general health, too. 

Is there anywhere safer than the pages of a journal? It feels wonderful to release your thoughts without fear of judgment. Still, what if you don’t want to write about your day? Writing down your thoughts doesn’t have to mean keeping a diary. You can make your journal whatever you want — lists, ideas, memories, thoughts, even doodles or drawings — and anything goes since it’s your space. It’s healthy to reflect on your thoughts and actions, aspirations and dreams, relationships and decisions, and doing so can help us to achieve greater awareness in our lives. However, you may be wondering: how exactly does our health benefit?

What are the health benefits of journaling?

Not only is journaling a great way to document your life journey, it’s also an ideal way to reflect on your health. Keeping track of how you’re feeling, whether it’s daily or weekly, can help you to check in with yourself and practice mindfulness through writing. This can also make it easier for us to reach our goals — when we’re reflecting, we’re learning. By learning more about ourselves, we can keep ourselves accountable for our thoughts, actions, and relationships. And over time, these changes can bring us more happiness. 

There are both mental and physical benefits to journaling as well — it’s a great step to include in your morning or night routine.

  1. Improve memory: Writing down our thoughts and feelings can help us to face our problems and reduce intrusive thoughts. Studies have shown that students expressing themselves through writing saw improvements in memory, most notably when releasing negative thoughts. Those memories will also be available for you to refer back to, which can be a great resource for future reflection. You’ll be able to see how far you’ve come!
  2. Stop anxiety in its tracks: Positive affect journaling, where you focus and self-regulate your emotions by writing, decreases mental distress and improves wellbeing. One study found that after one month of using this technique, both depression and anxiety can improve. Simply being in the moment and writing your fears and recurring thoughts can help you put them away.
  3. Reduce stress: For many, journaling is one effective way to reduce stress and work on being more positive. Participants in one study found that dealing with a stressful event by journaling rather than drawing helped them to feel more positive and mentally strong. Especially if you are living alone, journaling might be a great way to feel more capable and will allow you the space to deal with your problems and find solutions.
  4. Help you sleep better: Processing your day, and any unresolved problems, can be overwhelming when you’re trying to get to sleep. Doing so by journaling can help you put all your worries on paper (much healthier than ruminating or obsessing!) and let you fall asleep peacefully. Right before bed is also a convenient time to take out your journal if you have busy mornings.
  5. Give you the tools to overcome life changes: A study looking into an expressive writing treatment group for those coping with job loss found that half of the group that participated found full-time employment after eight months compared to one-quarter of the control group who didn’t journal. Journaling can help you learn more about your challenges, discover and analyze patterns in your life, and find the best solutions. Writing about our thoughts and feelings about major life changes can help us feel more in control.
  6. Bring relief to chronic illnesses: Journaling may improve the condition of patients with chronic illnesses. In a research study following seventy-five adults with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, journaling focused on positivity and finding benefits in life reduced pain levels in those with high anxiety, whereas standard expressive writing was effective for those with lower levels of anxiety. Both groups saw a reduction in fatigue.

 

The health benefits of journaling are numerous — the one thing that journaling may improve the most is your feeling of control. When we are able to release our thoughts and emotions in a healthy way, we feel like we’re in control of our feelings and better able to cope with future situations. If you feel like you’re struggling to find relief in your daily life, then journaling may be an effective way to self-regulate your emotions. It’s a bit like therapy at home! 

 

How can you begin journaling?

If you’d like to start a journaling journey, you may be a little intimidated! Don’t worry — that’s completely normal. It can be difficult to face our feelings, even if it’s just with ourselves on paper. While some of us may have no problem writing in a stream of consciousness fashion (very effective!), others might not be able to do this at first. If you’re struggling to come up with a place to start, try out a writing prompt. Pick something that you feel comfortable writing about, then get started. Here are a few prompts to inspire you:

  • When was the last time you had a really great day? Describe what you did and how you felt.
  • You’re having a bad day. What are your favorite ways to cheer yourself up?
  • Write about the first time you did something. What did you see, hear, touch, smell, or taste?
  • Describe the characteristics of a good friend. Do you have someone like this in your life? 
  • How could life be better? Write down the things you want out of life and one small thing you can do this week to work toward them.
  • What is your financial situation like? Do you feel in control? Why or why not?
  • Name the most important people in your life. What are they like?
  • Think about your best traits. What are they and how can you make the most of them?
  • Describe a time you felt hurt or misunderstood by a loved one and reframe it. How can you look at it from their perspective?

 

Journaling can be a positive or negative experience depending on the day, but so can our lives. Being able to let yourself go and realize those ups and downs, but also acknowledging that things will get better, can be empowering. And if you’re facing a lot of negative thoughts and feelings, take that as a cue that maybe you need to reach out to someone for help. Journaling is truly an amazing (and free!) way to check in with yourself! Are you ready to start journaling? 

Emma Haggerty
I’m an experienced content writer with a passion for reading, writing, and traveling. I have a background in linguistics, literature, creative writing, and anthropology.  My travels have taken me to many amazing places and brought me the best of friends, but along the way, I’ve also learned the importance of staying healthy, so I can tackle my goals anywhere I go. I’m excited to bring to you my experience and enthusiasm for a healthy lifestyle.
Researcher

Juliana Ascolani

I am a health researcher who bridges data science and health research with direct experience in healthcare and university institutions, passionately and collaboratively pursuing the integration and synergy of all key areas of health and wellness. I believe in inclusion as the main pillar of our society, especially when it comes to health. Promotion and prevention in health empower people to adopt healthy decisions, thus I have been working during the last years in the development of inclusive and holistic health systems. What do I enjoy the most about my job? Realizing how we are making a difference in people’s lives, and seeing the result in their health journeys. I enjoy the challenge of questioning new paradigms and creating debate around them.

Danoff-Burg, S., Agee, J. D., Romanoff, N. R., Kremer, J. M., & Strosberg, J. M. (2006). Benefit finding and expressive writing in adults with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Psychology & Health, 21(5), 651–665. https://doi.org/10.1080/14768320500456996

Harvey, A. G., & Farrell, C. (2003). The efficacy of a Pennebaker-like writing intervention for poor sleepers. Behavioral sleep medicine, 1(2), 115–124. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15402010BSM0102_4

Klein, K., & Boals, A. (2001). Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity. Journal of experimental psychology. General, 130(3), 520–533. https://doi.org/10.1037//0096-3445.130.3.520

Slatcher, R., & Pennebaker, J. (2007). Emotional Expression and Health. In Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health & Medicine (2nd ed., pp. 84–87). Cambridge University Press.

Smyth, J. M., Johnson, J. A., Auer, B. J., Lehman, E., Talamo, G., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2018). Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR mental health, 5(4), e11290. https://doi.org/10.2196/11290

Spera, S., Buhrfeind, E., & Pennebaker, J. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. Academy of Management Journal, 37(3), 722-733.

Related articles