There are numerous studies showing that Therapeutic Journaling can be effective in boosting health and wellbeing, from improving Asthma and Rheumatoid Arthritis to reducing visits to the Doctor and lowering rumination and depressive symptoms.
Because it is such a simple and virtually free ‘therapy’ to use, I always recommend it to my patients and I have seen some swift and life-changing results, even when this is the only strategy people have used.
Rita’s shining example!
An example of this is Rita who had been through some exceptionally challenging times in her life, including adverse childhood experiences, the death of her husband in a bombing attack in Ireland, as well as the death of one of her daughters. Rita had been in hospital unable to walk for a month and was suffering from pain and a functional neurological disorder, which was mimicking multiple sclerosis. After coming across this approach and using journaling to address the emotions she had been repressing all her life, her symptoms resolved in a matter of a few weeks.
So as you can see from Rita’s outcome, at times journaling really can have quite dramatic results, but then of course everyone is different and many take longer and some just don’t feel it’s for them. However, I also see many people who tell me they have been journaling for weeks or even months and it hasn’t worked for them. I’m always interested when I hear that because there is often a reason for this.
The importance of letting go and moving on
People tell me that they aren’t focusing on their pain and are trying to focus on the ‘psychological’ cause of their pain as Dr John Sarno and the rest of us in this field recommend. They tell me that they offload about how they are feeling and allow themselves to ‘feel’ the emotions, which ensures that they are not repressing them, which is great. Once they have finished, they often consider what they feel grateful for and anything else to boost their mood, which again is good thing to do.
The next day though they begin to focus on all the negative things in their life again, past or present, and the cycle starts again because they never reach a point of resolution or acceptance. Unfortunately this can actually create self-induced stress because by not resolving the issues they tend to continue ruminating about it all, which not only causes the emotions to build again, but continues to ‘fuel’ the pain cycle, which is what we are trying to avoid.
One important step is being missed here and that is to rationalise the issue that they have been offloading about, consider it from all angles and then put things into perspective in order to reach a point of acceptance so they can let go and move on.
Holding on to resentment, anger, bitterness, jealousy etc only harms us, not the individual or circumstance that caused it in the first place. If you are reading this you will probably know that harbouring unresolved emotions like these cause all sorts of health conditions, as well as chronic pain. Studies show that adverse childhood experiences for example are closely linked with ill-health in later life, but by being able to acknowledge how you felt about these events and then put things into perspective offers you the opportunity to let go, move on and regain your life.
Letting go or forgiveness, isn’t religious or spiritual and it certainly isn’t about condoning what someone has done. It is about letting go of the hold this person/event has been having on you, which at times can be years or even decades. Journaling provides a wonderful opportunity to address the issue and reach a point of acceptance that it happened, accept that you can’t change it anyway but you can decide to let go and move on from it.
So, for some brief tips on how to use journaling to address unresolved emotional turmoil:
- Allow yourself to rant on to paper. Give your inner child a voice, let yourself blame, be the victim, moan, complain etc. Free-write or write unsent letters, where you can really direct your feelings towards a particular person, until you feel you have ‘bottomed’ the issue or at least an aspect of it.B. You might feel you need to write a few unsent letters etc before you are ready to move on to really complete the next step.
- Begin to explore the issue from all angles, either by free-writing, jotting down insights or dialoguing with the individual so you ‘hear’ it from their side. Consider:
- What you have learned from it/them?
- What positives can you take from it? (e.g. have you learned never to act how they did, have you been able to help others in similar situations, what personality traits have you developed as a result that make you a good friend or employee?)
- What do you know about the other person’s earlier life that might explain why they behaved as they did to help you understand it better?
- The fact that it is in the past and decide whether you are now ready to accept the lessons learned, let go and move on.
- Finish by aiming to ‘lift’ your mood if necessary, for example by:
- Focusing on things you feel grateful for.
- Watching a happy or inspiring video.
- Breathing more slowly and deeply than usual, imagining the air flowing in, around your heart and then gently flowing out again. Then conjure up something or someone you love until you feel the sensation of compassion, love or joy and allow this to build up as you continue the slow, rhythmical breathing.
- Cross your arms and stroke your arms from your shoulders down to your hands at the same time while speaking reassuringly to yourself or using supportive affirmations.