Writing is like building a house.
When you sit down, with pen and paper in hand (my preferred method), something unlocks in your mind and emotional outlook.
You begin to see the structure of what your mind’s been chewing on or wrestling through.
You would be crazy to build any size structure without a blueprint or plan of some sort.
Yet, often when we lay the foundation and erect our emotional boundaries and health, we begin without any forethought, direction, or structure.
Right now, I’m typing away on a keyboard, not using a pen and paper. While this method is much faster as my fingers usually keep up with my thoughts, it doesn’t feel as satisfying. When using pen and paper—old-school—the tactile expression forces me to slow down and let my mind ramble a bit more.
I find I pause more to think.
However, sometimes I get frustrated because I can’t capture every thought fast enough. My mind seems to flit and skip from thought to thought before I can jot them down. Those are the days where scribbles, cross-outs, and ink blotches smear the pages of my journal. It’s all good because this gives me insight into my emotional state.
Dr. James Pennebaker’s book, Expressive Writing: Words That Heal, discusses personal and expressive writing benefits to regain a healthy emotional outlook.
In his research, Dr. Pennebaker discovered that those who followed a journaling routine daily for 15-minutes went to the doctor less often in the months following his research study. Many even claimed their writing practice changed their lives. Those who kept the trauma secret and never put pen to paper were much worse off than those who wrote about their trauma. He was shocked.
After the study concluded, the researchers continued to follow their research participants for several months to see the long-term effects of this emotional writing experiment.
They identified three main outcomes:
Researchers noted improvements in the participant’s immune systems, medical health markers, and physiological stress indicators.
These were a bit more complicated but also interesting. The researchers discovered that sadness and tears are common in the first few hours after writing about a difficult or traumatic event. But, the long-term effects showed the writers became more positive and happier with better cognitive function.
Most of the participants in the study found they could better adapt to their current situations. For students in the study, they experienced higher grades. Generally, the participants were less angry, anxious, and felt more socially comfortable.
How does this apply to you?
And how could you heal your emotional outlook faster and start to reap the benefits of journaling?
Here’s a blueprint for guided journaling and expressive writing:
I don’t use “Dear Diary” or anything like that. I start writing about how I’m feeling at the moment. You could also jot some thoughts about where you are, what’s going on around you, or whatever you need to loosen up your thoughts.
Current event or memory.
Pick anything you need to process. In the research study, they invited the participants to write about a traumatic event. If you need to process something like that, then dive in.
Don’t judge, edit, or evaluate. Just write. Anything that comes to mind.
This is the time to get the emotions out of your thoughts and onto the paper. And, I do recommend the manual method of a pen to paper. However, if you need to process but don’t have a pen and paper, record a voice memo on your phone or use an electronic note. The point here is to process through what is happening.
Don’t forget to capture those exciting moments as well. Take a picture and then write down what is happening in this picture. Write out your feelings in detail. You need to process the happy, joy-filled emotions as well. Capture them to review later.
Write for at least 15 minutes.
You can write longer. But, there is something about developing the 15-minute discipline that helps you get into flow with your thoughts. If you get stuck, and it hasn’t been 15 minutes yet, sit in the tension.
Ask yourself some questions about why you are stuck.
If you are a person of faith, ask God to show you what’s holding you back or what you need to get off your mind. Sometimes those moments of quiet reflection spur new thoughts and emotions. Jot them down. Explore them. Ask yourself questions about them. Don’t get hung up on the proper grammar, sentence structure, or even try to make logical sense. That’ll stop the flow of your thoughts! Write what comes to mind. In this freewriting, you often unlock the real issue or discover a new positive flow.
Set aside for now, but plan to review it later.
Once you’ve completed your thought process for today, set it aside. If you’ve processed through a traumatic event, reviewing at a later date brings encouragement and further clarity. When should you review it? When you are ready. You might take time to review it with your coach, a counselor, your husband, or your soul sister or BFF. There’s no magic formula here.
I’ve reviewed key journal entries several times with my coach, counselor, husband, or a close friend. I needed their perspective on what I discovered in that journal entry. I also needed to celebrate the growth I’d seen from the entry to my review date.
This blueprint’s whole idea is to give you a plan to start processing through your pain to improve your emotional outlook.
I find this one of the healthiest ways to find my emotional balance. It frees up my mind to explore what’s really happening without fear of reprisal from someone else.
Science proves expressive writing creates a healthy way to process our struggles.
What do you have to lose? Try it. See if journaling 15-minutes a day helps you gain your emotional footing and discover the healthiness you desire. Lay that foundation. Start to build your emotional architecture.
I started journaling consistently 13 years ago. Today, I look back and recognize the healing that’s come from processing my life through the written word. Others will never see most of what I’ve written. It won’t benefit them. But, journaling made dramatic emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual changes in my life.
What prompted my journaling? An emotional punch in the gut.
When my loving husband revealed he was addicted to pornography and might lose his job, my world started to spin out of control, and the pit beneath me threatened to swallow me whole. It took this giant, painful wakeup call in our marriage to prompt me to start processing my emotions in a journal. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you can’t relate exactly, but do you see the possible benefits journaling offers you if you take those fifteen minutes for yourself?
What’s stopping you? Are you ready to change your emotional outlook?
I mean that. Not in a “pep talk” kind of way. I’m really asking you, “What’s stopping you?”
If you need help getting unstuck, let’s talk. I offer a free consultation to personalize some next steps so you can begin to clear your head and heal.