Writing for twenty minutes a day, for just three days, can change your life. Does it sound unbelievable? James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas conducted research specifically investigating the positive effect journaling could have on emotion. He found that across the subjects of his studies, there was a positive and effective aftermath. Half of his subjects were asked to write about experiences in their lives which held distinguished emotional meaning. The other half of his subjects were asked to write about everyday occurrences and observations.
For those who spent the 20 minutes of writing a day focusing on heavy emotional experiences, Pennebaker discovered definite improvements, including, but not limited to:
Lower blood pressure
Improved relationships, memory, physical health, mental health
Undeniably, in each of Pennebaker’s studies, the practice of expressing emotional experiences through journaling proves to be deeply therapeutic. Writing helped in coping with stress, grief, fear, and depression. Additionally, overtime, people who regularly journaled change their language. More importantly, they change their thinking. Insight, understanding, and perspective begin to develop, demonstrated through phrases such as “I realize”, and “I understand now”.
Journaling as a Tool for Recovery
How does journaling lead to a greater sense of wellbeing and understanding in the world? Your average “dear diary”, as exemplified in Pennebaker’s studies, doesn’t exactly cut it. The human brain processes billions of intricate and detailed thoughts throughout the day. Emotion is one of the curious things about human beings, which we have a language to express. However, most modern culture suggests, in one way or another, against expressing emotion. From trauma to tragedy, accomplishment to happiness, there is general instruction not to feel too much- or at least let anyone know about it.
Mistakenly, emotions are thought to be passing experiences. While it is true that “this too shall pass”, the energy of each emotion we experience does not just go away. When we lose that baseball tournament at 7 years old and our father says “suck it up”, we don’t just “suck it up” and forget about it. We experience a colorful array of emotions that, until dealt with, stay with us a lifetime. Guilt, shame, disappointment, fear, loneliness- so much can be felt and it is completely unique to who we are as individuals.
Many of us drank and used drugs as way to simultaneously “let loose” to express ourselves, and shut down our persisting emotions. We wanted to feel everything by feeling nothing at all. When we get sober and start living a life of recovery free from drugs and alcohol, we are suddenly presented with all those feelings. Though we thought we had done away with them for good, we had only anesthetized them temporarily. Begging to be reconciled, every single emotional experience begins to surface. The fact of the matter is it has to go somewhere. If we are lucky enough to be in treatment, we have multiple therapy sessions a day to divulge. Still, at the end of the day, there may be more to process. Just 20 minutes of writing at the end of the day can help unload and make sense of all those emotions.
Journaling as a tool for recovery is an important and useful tool because it helps support emotional regulation. After years of consistent substance abuse, we have trained our brains to run at the first hint of uncomfortable feelings. Journaling is a way to make peace with the art of emotion, and possibly learn a thing or two from feeling them.
Enlightened Solutions has seen the incredible transformations which take place from the simple act of asking for help. If you are ready to change your life and ask for help overcoming your battle with drug addiction or alcoholism, call us today. 833-801-5483.