Can Writing A Journal Improve Your Health? Jesse Kept A Diary For A Week To Find Out.

Expressive Writing Self Care Diary and Bullet Journal
Journaling might seem like an odd – or perhaps even obvious – topic to write about considering that using Bearable is a form of journaling already.  You’re probably thinking “Of course they’re going to say journaling is great” but I wanted to take a look at the impact of journaling on my mood, sleep, and symptoms. Just like I have with other forms of self-care. To be clear, I’m not talking about simply tracking the impact of using Bearable on my health but the impact of spending 20 minutes a day writing expressively in a journal.   More than anything, I want to track the impact that consciously working through negative thoughts can have on my health. With the aim of answering the question: Is there an advantage to writing a journal as well as keeping track of my symptoms, factors, sleep, etc.? With good reason too.  Journaling has become a trend in the productivity, self-care, and self-improvement spaces. With more and more notebooks and apps pushing their users to set goals, read motivational quotes, and bullet their tasks for the day/week/month/year.  So it’s important to ask: Does journaling really work?

How is journaling supposed to impact your health?

Journaling is a form of expressive writing or writing therapy that enables “the writer to gain mental and emotional clarity, validate experiences and come to a deeper understanding of him/herself” through self-reflection. Essentially, it’s a way of expressing your thoughts and feelings without having to talk about them. As a result, it’s possible to obtain some of the benefits that people might often associate with something like therapy.  In fact, studies have found that journaling has helped to improve mental health, heal wounds faster, and lead to fewer visits to the doctor. However, it’s important to point out that some studies have shown that journaling doesn’t help everyone.  So who can it help?
    • People that struggle to talk about their feelings
    • Introverted people
    • People who struggle to concentrate or organise their thoughts
    • People with little social support
    • People with high levels of social constraints
    • People who have issues with their memory
Essentially, if you already reflect openly with a strong support network of friends and family. Then you’re less likely to reap the benefits of journaling. That shouldn’t stop you from trying though. As someone that’s introverted and struggles with concentration. I’m interested to see how journaling can support my day-to-day decision making, mood, and anxiety.
The overall effect of journaling on my mood
The effect of journaling on my mood.

Isn’t journaling just writing a diary?

It can be. But studies suggest that expressive writing can be more impactful than simply keeping a diary. Often, journaling is most useful when it’s practised daily and it’s recommended that you commit to 20 minutes every day for four days. At least during times when you need to work through specific challenges in your life. As a quick overview of how to practice an effective form of expressive writing or journaling:
    1. Find a quiet place
    2. Write continuously for 20 minutes
    3. Write about something that’s personal and important to you
    4. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar
    5. If something feels too difficult to write about, don’t write about it
Be aware that It’s common to feel a lower mood or even sad after writing but this is meant to go away after an hour or two.  Some people also recommend not restricting yourself to writing but to feel free to draw, diagram, and anything else that helps you to organise your thoughts.  Perhaps if you’re not trying to tackle a difficult issue, creating a bullet journal is a helpful way to maintain the practice and also organize your thoughts and tasks for the day.
The overall effect of journaling on my health
The overall effect of journaling on my symptoms.

How was my first week of writing a journal?

Instead of a pen and notepad, I decided to write my journal using the notes section in Bearable. This way I’d be able to see the impact of specific notes on my symptoms, mood, sleep, and energy.

Day One: I sat down with my pad and pen and didn’t really know what to write about. After about 5 minutes I began by writing a normal diary entry; things I did that day. It quickly became easy to allocate the thoughts that I needed to journal about.

Day Two: I was incredibly grumpy and stressed but I was struggling to figure out why. Journaling came a bit more easily when I had a specific problem that I wanted to think about and understand. 

Day Three: The symptoms of my depression had been getting worse and I was feeling a bit hopeless and lacked any energy or motivation. Writing the journal became an act of gratitude. I tried to write about all the things that I appreciated and felt good about. 

Day Four: I wrote about an ongoing issue in my personal life. It felt good to externalise some of my thoughts but it also left me feeling a bit sad.

Day Five: I was incredibly grumpy again and was struggling to understand why. Journaling helped me to gain some perspective and see a bigger picture. Whilst it didn’t resolve the issue, it at least helped me to understand my mood.

Day Six: I was in a very good mood. With no big problems to resolve today, I wrote about why I was happy as a reminder to myself, something to reflect on. I also spent some time planning some goals and tasks to work towards.

Day Seven: I was in another good mood and struggled to have anything to write about. I ended up exploring the ideas behind why I was happy, what was making me happy, why it was making me happy, and how I could try to ensure that I had more of these experiences in my life. 

What did the data in Bearable tell me about the impact of journaling on my health?

Average Mood Score improved by 10% Average Symptom Score improved by 25% Average Energy Score improved by 8% Average Sleep Quality worsened by 4% Average Sleep Quantity worsened by 2%

How were symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia, and BDD impacted by journaling?

Binge eating improved by 86% Being self-critical improved by 69% Avoiding people improved by 69% Tiredness improved by 67% Difficulty sleeping improved by 39% Lack of interest improved by 21% Avoiding my appearance worsened by 40% Worrying about my body shape worsened by 16% Worrying about my weight worsened by 8% The negative effect of journaling on my symptoms

What impact did journaling have on my health?

This experiment coincided with a period when symptoms of my body dysmorphia and disordered eating were worse than they had been for some time. So it’s of interest to me to see how journaling impacted these symptoms as well as others. Overall, I think journaling helped me to:
    • Better understand problems
    • More quickly understand root causes of problems
    • Identify solutions to problems
    • Feel better about problems
    • Find ways to communicate my problems with others
    • Organise my thoughts, plans, and intentions
As a result of these benefits, I tended to feel less jaded, less exhausted, and more confident around other people. However, there were also some negatives that came from this experience:
    • I dwelled on, or over-thought some problems
    • Problems without solutions caused me frustration
    • I often felt down or sad after writing and this didn’t always go away
    • I dug up some problems that were better left buried
    • I tended to compare myself to others more often
Where I feel journaling really helped me was with smaller, everyday problems. Problems that could be resolved. Things that I was directly in control of. Anything bigger than that left me feeling worse.  On the flip-side of that, journaling when I had no problems helped me to feel grateful, positive, and also led to more constructive planning and goal setting. It has been especially helpful to look back on the notes I took on positive days and to remind myself of that mindset.  I can’t say that journaling had a huge impact on my health or symptoms but it’s 100% a useful tool for self-reflection that can help to give you some control over your thoughts and emotions. Where it helped me the most was on days when I didn’t know why I was in a low mood and needed to reflect. AND on days when I felt great and needed to channel that energy into something constructive by creating a plan. Overall, it did help to improve my mood and to reduce some of the symptoms of my anxiety. The positive effect of journaling on my symptoms

One Reason You Should Try Journaling.

Journaling was quite a mixed experience for me but you might be one of the people that it works wonders for. I certainly feel it was more of a positive than a negative experience and was able to see the benefits after just a day or two of writing. On the days when journaling helped me, it felt like I gained some much-needed clarity and focus. Writing expressively forced me to dig a bit deeper into the reasons behind my thoughts and actions. So If you’re someone that’s interested in getting to know themselves better, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you try journaling.  This is especially true if you’re someone that knows they struggle to share their thoughts or feelings with other people. Or if you’re someone that wants to experiment with new ways of organising, planning, and solving problems in their day-to-day life. Journaling is recommended as a complementary therapy alongside forms of talking therapy and I can see how it might help someone to reflect on and organise their thoughts around counselling sessions. Or just to find alternative ways to communicate with a therapist. I’ll continue to journal on days when I can’t figure out why I’m in a terrible mood and maybe this is a good place for you to start too. If you give it a try, good luck.

Running your own experiments with Bearable?

If you enjoyed this experiment or have run any of your own we’d love to hear about it. You can reach out to us on Instagram at @BearableApp or post your own experiments using bearable using #BearableApp (on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). — Note: The advice given in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional before undertaking activities intended to impact your health and/or existing medical conditions. Photo credit: Freepik

Related articles