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On journals and depression

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I thought some here might find this interesting...


From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Thea O'Connor

September 21, 2006 - 12:16PM

From the journals of Anne Frank to the diary room of Big Brother, private places to offload inner thoughts and feelings have long been recognised as therapeutic. It's a simple practice, putting pen to paper, but it can be as healing as seeing a counsellor.

Studies show writing about emotional upheavals can enhance immune function, reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep and lift performance at school or work, says James Pennebaker, professor of psychology at the University of Texas.

In his pioneering research investigating the link between writing and good health, Pennebaker asked students to write in their journals for 15 to 20 minutes a day for four days about a traumatic event in their lives.

The health of students who wrote detailed accounts linking feelings and events improved significantly. Writing boosted their immune function for at least six weeks. After six months, health centre visits were halved.

However, those students who wrote only about the facts surrounding an event or only vented their feelings missed out on this health-enhancing effect.

Pennebaker has found it's a combination of the objective (what happened) and the subjective (what you felt about what happened) that heals - a phenomenon also observed by researcher Deb Western.

Western, a social worker and lecturer at La Trobe University in Bendigo, is examining the influence of keeping a journal on women's experience of depression.

"The women have been very clear that [keeping a journal] needs to include an emotional component in order to help them understand and make some meaning of what is happening for them," she says.

Western has used journal-keeping as a therapeutic tool in her work with women dealing with the challenges of everyday life as well as those who've suffered sexual assault, family violence and mental and physical health problems.

"Some women have said that the journal was their only form of communication when they were unwell," Western says.

Sarah, 32, a participant in Western's research group, says her journal provides "a safe place to express myself, to have my voice heard without being judged". The opportunity to vent emotions is therapeutic, she says. "It allows me to get it all out of my system and I do feel better afterwards; it's like a sigh of relief."

After the initial relief comes clarification. "I write when my head is full, when I know I'm feeling something but am not sure what, or when my mind is heavy, confused and blurry. Clarity emerges during the writing process itself, or on reflection, reading back. I can end up [in] a completely different place from when I started."

There is an almost medicinal quality to the combination of emotional catharsis and psychological insight. In his book Opening Up, Pennebaker gives scientific credibility to the common adage "it's better out than in" and says actively holding back our thoughts and feelings is hard work.

Over time, this inhibition can increase the risk of disease by gradually undermining our immune function, vascular system and even the biochemical workings of our brain and nervous systems. In contrast, talking or writing about one's deepest thoughts and feelings releases this physiological inhibition, allowing health to improve.

Pennebaker's prescription for enhancing health

Write about something that:

* You think or worry about too much

* You often dream about

* You'd like to tell others but haven't

* You've avoided for days, weeks or years

* Is affecting your life in an unhealthy way

Explore both the event (what happened) and your feelings about it. Write continuously for at least 15 minutes on three or four consecutive days. Don't worry about grammar, spelling or sentence structure.

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i hardly ever put pen to paper anymore. i used to, but then my ex step-bitch and mother both liked to invade my privacy and read my journal, so ever since i was in my teens i haven't even kept one. all my secrets are with me. i used to really feel the urge to write in a journal back when i first quit, but now i don't.

during my last hospitalization i was in a grieving/survivor's group and we had to write about some events and feelings, and write letters as if we were writing to the deceased. i found that to be very helpful and i think it did shorten my hospital stay. still, those letters got torn up and thrown away when i was done.

i don't hold any paper record of my life anywhere. or electronic for that matter. even my springer page here is edited for your consumption.

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i had read studies that went as far as to say journaling was detrimental to emotional health period.

it's nice to see it broken down into what is and is not helpful.

really, thank you. this is very helpful information for all of us here. (penny to springer.... come in springer.....)


i'm super big into DBT journaling.

i need to make and pin a post about that.

learning DBT journaling made emotional causality so much more clear.

but i think the author of the article, in her own way, gets at a lot of what DBT journaling gets at.

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Journaling really helps me a lot. Especially in the area of psychological breakthroughs. I just write what I'm thinking then read it again later in the week and often notice things I didn't catch as I was writing it. I don't keep mine on paper either; it is in electronic format at a remote location and accessible only by password.


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