Journaling is a common practice among people recovering from addiction. Journaling is simple. You only need a notebook and a pen to get started. Despite its simplicity–or perhaps because of it–journaling is one of the most powerful ways to improve your mental health. It’s best to write every day at a regular time. It doesn’t matter if you only write a sentence or two at first. Gradually, you will find you have more to say and your journal will become a richer exploration of your inner life. Here are some of the many ways journaling can strengthen your recovery and improve your life.
Journaling can increase your gratitude.
Gratitude has many benefits. It increases your level of happiness, improves your mood, and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety. Gratitude makes you more positive and optimistic and it improves your relationships. Despite all the benefits of frequent feelings of gratitude, most people don’t go around feeling especially grateful. We’re more sensitive to threats and negative things in our lives and these typically consume our attention. To be more grateful, you have to practice.
Psychologist Martin Seligman came up with the idea of the gratitude journal. The idea is simple: every evening, write down three things that went well and why they went well. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just write, “I’m grateful for my family,” but rather, “I’m grateful that my sister took time to stop by today, since she knew I wasn’t feeling well,” and so on. Being specific makes you think more carefully about what you’re grateful for and it keeps the exercise fresh.
Journaling can help you process trauma.
Many studies have found that journaling can be an effective way to process trauma. Psychologist James Pennebaker of the University of Texas, Austin has conducted much of the research in this area. For one study, he divided 46 college students into two groups. He asked one group to write about a potentially traumatic experience and he asked the other group to write about some trivial matter. The students wrote on these topics for 15 minutes for four consecutive days. Over the next six months, the students who had written about traumatic topics visited the student health center less frequently and took pain relievers less often. Stress and anxiety typically lead to more frequent illnesses and greater perception of pain, so it may be that the group that wrote about trauma experienced less emotional turmoil over the following months.
This study was small, but other studies have found similar effects. Various studies have found that expressive writing can improve conditions such as sleep apnea, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, and cancer. Expressive writing has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate, although writing about a traumatic experience may be more stressful at first. Writing about trauma seems to work best at least several months after the traumatic experience and you should focus on finding a sense of meaning in the experience.
Journaling can help you clarify your thoughts.
Flannery O’Connor famously said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Many other writers have expressed a similar idea. We often think we know what we think until we try to articulate it. Journaling forces you to impose some order on the random thoughts and emotions bouncing around in your head. Often these thoughts are the just tip of something bigger, that you never discover unless you explore your thoughts on paper. Seeing your thoughts in writing lets you expand, explore, and untangle what’s going on in your head.
Journaling can make therapy more effective.
Therapists will often assign journaling as homework because it’s such a good way to examine what’s happening in your mind and begin to change it for the better. For example, one common exercise used in cognitive behavioral therapy is the ABC exercise. ABC is an acronym for action, belief, and consequence. We often make the mistake of thinking that external circumstances directly cause emotions but according to cognitive behavioral therapy, our beliefs about external circumstances are what cause emotions. This is sometimes hard to grasp. If you lose your wallet, for example, shouldn’t you feel distressed? Well maybe, but you’ll feel a lot more distressed if you believe something like “Oh no, someone is going to steal my identity and run up credit card debt in my name and I’ll be financially ruined and put on the terrorist watch list,” and so on. By writing down moments of emotional turmoil and the actions and beliefs that led to them, you become more aware of how your own beliefs contribute to your distress and you are better able to challenge those often mistaken beliefs.
Journaling can help reduce rumination.
Rumination is when you get stuck in a rut of negative thinking, often about past mistakes or self-criticism. Rumination is a common feature of depression and it is a frustratingly hard pattern to break. One thing that may help is journaling. Part of the trap of rumination is that your brain feels like you’ve latched onto something important and you don’t want to forget it, so you rehearse it. Rumination also usually feels like you’re analyzing a problem, looking for a solution. However, you’re really just spinning your wheels. Writing down whatever it is you’re ruminating about can help you break out of the pattern. You no longer have to remember it and you may actually analyze the problem and look for a solution, rather than just chew on it.
Journaling can help you spot patterns.
When you write every day about things that are going on in your life and how you feel, you eventually start to notice patterns. Maybe you feel anxious whenever you have to be around a certain person, or some particular task at work makes you especially angry. Knowing these things can make you more self-aware and help you better navigate the world and your own emotional life. And you don’t have to work especially hard to notice these patterns most of the time. When there’s a pattern, you typically find yourself writing about it over and over.
Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Detox Center of Colorado offers “Expanded Recovery” to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Detox Center of Colorado fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463