How Journaling Can Help During Difficult Times

(Excerpts From Kiram Newman | August 18, 2020: Greater Good Magazine: Science -Based Insights For A Meaningful Life

Students, teachers, support staff and parents, who are involved in the Wellness for All Learning System follow a formula to record their Intentions, Affirmations and Gratitude on a, daily, basis. They are taught to follow a formula so their 5-10 minutes every morning can be spent in reflective and prayerful mood, repeating positive concepts to set the tone for the day. It is followed by centering and focusing themselves using mindfulness breathing.

However, according to research experts, there has been a resurgence of using journaling, as a Pandemic Journal, to help people get through COVID. In fact, hundreds of people have written journal entries on the Pandemic Project website, a resource created by psychology researchers that offers writing prompts to help people explore their experiences and emotions around COVID-19.

At a time when the days blend into each other, journaling is helping people separate one from the next and clear out the distressing thoughts invading our heads (and our dreams). Research also suggests it might be helping our health and immune systems.

The Power of Opening Up

In the past 30 years, hundreds of studies have uncovered the benefits of putting pen to paper with your deepest thoughts and feelings. In a 2006 study, nearly 100 young adults were asked to spend 15 minutes journaling or drawing about a stressful event, or writing about their plans for the day, twice, during, one week. The people who journaled saw the biggest reduction in symptoms like depression, anxiety, and hostility, particularly if they were very distressed to begin with. This was true even though 80 percent had seldom journaled about their feelings. Some people avoid journaling because if you are reflecting about hard stuff, it is not always pleasant. For, that reason and because teachers are not trained health professionals, the Wellness for All learning System will use journaling as a positive reinforcement activity only. Other research finds that writing specifically boosts our immune system, good news when the source of so much stress today is an infectious virus.

Why Journaling Works

What is the secret to the humble diary? It turns out journaling works on two different levels, having to do with both our feelings and our thoughts. First, it is a way of disclosing emotions rather than stuffing them down, which is known to be harmful for our health. So many of us have secret pain or shame that we have not shared with others, swarming around our brains in images and emotions. Through writing, our pain gets translated into black-and-white words that exist outside of ourselves.

ā€œIā€™m able to organize thoughts and feelings on paper so they no longer take up room in my head,ā€ says Allison Quatrini, an assistant professor at Eckerd College who has been journaling for years. On the thinking level, writing forces us to organize our experiences into a sequence, giving us a chance to examine cause and effect and form a coherent story. Through this process, we can also gain some distance from our experiences and begin to understand them in new ways, stumbling upon insights about ourselves and the world. While trauma can upset our beliefs about how life works, processing trauma through writing seems to give us a sense of control.

Expressive Writing Journaling

The point here is that the most effective journaling moves from emotions to thoughts over time. We start expressing our feelings, allowing ourselves to name them; after all, jumping to thoughts too quickly could mean we are over-analyzing or avoiding. But eventually, we do start to make observations, notice patterns, or set goals for the future. Adults may find this type of journaling effective. This form of journaling is expressive writing. It has a place and a purpose. Just not for the Wellness for All Learning System. Positive R Us!