Let’s face it…we are ALL feeling stress now more than ever. Financial stress. Relationship stress. Stress about the state of the world in general. And, of course, stress about our health and the health of our family members affects many. Luckily, there are also a LOT of tools out there that can help you manage stress before it starts to manage you. One little-known tool is journaling. The simple act of writing down your thoughts can significantly help lower your stress responses and lead to more vibrant health. Here’s how!
How Stress Affects the Body
Before we dive into how a simple act like putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) can help reduce stress and promote health, let’s take a look at what stress can do to your body if left unchecked.
According to experts, a bout of “acute” stress every now and again is perfectly normal and may even help us produce new brain cells. Our “fight or flight” responses are there for a reason. But once the threat is over (whether it be a bear in the woods or an intruder in your home), stress responses need to be “turned off” until the next threat emerges. What is happening for millions of people worldwide, however, is that stress responses are running almost continuously. This is called “chronic stress”—and it is dangerous.
When the body is in a state of chronic stress, it begins to release continuous amounts of cortisol, stimulating adrenaline and eventually leading to adrenal fatigue and overall hormone imbalance. Other changes that can occur when chronic stress (and PTSD) continues over years include glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammatory responses, deterioration of brain function and higher risk for disease, including cancer.
How Journaling Can Help Lower Stress Levels
Meditation, deep breathing, walking in nature, tai chi, yoga, dancing, painting and even listening to soft music are all simple ways to turn stress responses down. Another way is “expressive journaling” (“therapeutic writing,” “diary writing” or just plain “journaling” are other ways to describe this).
A study published in the journal Psychotherapy Research found that individuals who wrote about their emotions experienced a greater reduction of depression and anxiety compared to those who didn’t. A study conducted through the University of Mississippi that focused on PTSD and substance abuse found similar results. Finally, a study published in Oncology Nurses Forum found that expressing their feelings in the form of letter-writing greatly assisted patients with reoccurring breast cancer adjust to breast reconstruction.
Researchers and psychologists say that writing can have a “cathartic effect” because the very process of writing helps a person to sort out and clarify often confusing and conflicting thoughts and emotions. It also gives that person both time and a vehicle in which to reflect on their journey so far. Writing thoughts and feelings down about a particular situation also allows for a safe yet effective way to express and release sometimes volatile yet common emotions such as frustration, anger and even rage.
“To take the journey into our interior—to understand ourselves better—we need to help our unconscious to construct new meaning out of our experiences,” says psychoanalyst and author Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review. “Reflective writing about a painful experience becomes very complementary to talking about it because it engages a different part of the brain.”
Kets de Vries also warns that diving into a particular memory or issue through writing too soon after the event has happened can sometimes make things worse. He and others suggest that it may be good to wait at least a month or two before writing it all down.
4 Tips for Expressive Journaling
Are you ready to give writing a shot? Use these tips to help you get the most out of the experience:
- Logistics first. All you really need to get started is a few sheets of paper or a blank notebook and a pen. Yes, you can journal on the computer as well. In fact, there are even computer apps out there, such as LiveJournal, designed to assist.
- Be sure to set the amount of time and the “mood” for your writing. Set a timer and make sure that you will not be interrupted. Let others in your household know not to disturb you. Turn off your phone and internet connection. Be sure that you are in a quiet place that will be conducive to writing. Setting aside twenty minutes of uninterrupted time is a good place to start.
- If you don’t know how to start, start with this prompt: How am I feeling and what am I thinking about at this moment? Set your timer and keep your hand moving. Be sure to send that critic/editor part of you on a mini-vacation and remember that no one has to see what you write but you!
- Finally, if you feel that enough time has passed since a traumatic event has occurred and you are writing about it, don’t be afraid of the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that may arise. Let them come to the surface and write those down as well. If you are unsure, be sure to get the advice of a therapist or counselor.
Healing Your Emotional Wounds is part of the 7 Essentials System ™ for good reason; it is often those events which have caused the most hurt that will remain in our subconscious the longest. The stress of holding on to them can contribute to disease. Journaling is one modality out of many that allows you the time and space to nurture yourself through crisis (or the memories of crisis). In the end, letting them come to the surface and writing them out can lead you to a healthier, happier you!
Dr. Veronique Desaulniers (“Dr. V”) is a best-selling author and specialist in Chiropractic, Bio-Energetics, Meridian Stress Analysis, Homeopathy and Digital Thermography. After 30 years in active practice, she decided to “retire” and devote her time to sharing her personal, non-toxic Breast Cancer healing journey with others. Her years of experience and research have culminated in “The 7 Essentials™ “, a step-by-step coaching program that unravels the mystery of healing the body. Her website and personal healing journey have touched the lives of thousands of women around the globe. To get your F.R.E.E. 7-day mini e-course and to receive her weekly inspiring articles on the power of Natural Medicine, visit http://breastcancerconqueror.com/.