The Benefits of Journaling

Journaling is an inexpensive, personal activity to help process trauma and manage mental health.  Journaling is a private space, where you can be yourself without any judgement or criticism.  It is described by Monk and Folit (2019) as “the practice of taking time . . . to write and reflect on thoughts, feelings and life experiences . . . the act of capturing and understanding our lives through expressive writing and stories”.

Our mental health changes throughout the day.  Throughout the Sensory Beginnings courses, we consider what puts us into the “green zone” where we are ready to be creative, explore the world, participate in discussions, show compassion, and support each other. 

We also think about what places us in the “red zone” where we might be overwhelmed, angry, frightened, or aggressive. 

Alternatively, there are times when we are in the “blue zone” when we go into shut down, we may have burnout, consider every event to be impossible or just too overwhelming.  It is not natural to be in the green zone all day, every day. 

However, there are certain sensory activities that we can incorporate into our day that will help us consider, reflect and process how we feel, to enable us to stay in the green zone for a little bit longer.  Journaling is one of those activities.

Research has shown an association between journaling and improved physical and mental health.

Pennebaker and Beall (1986) conducted the first study on preview journaling and occupational therapy.  Participants were invited to write about traumatic life events and the emotions they experienced for four days.  Although all participants experienced change in physiological status initially, over the next six months their physiological and psychological health improved, they also had a reduction in doctor visits and self-reported illness.

Further benefits to journaling include:

  • Reduce both anxiety and depression (Horton et al, 2021)
  • Benefits to emotional and psychological well-being (Emmons et al, 2003) (Bandini,2021)
  • Regulates emotions, encourages open expression.

Types of Journaling

Writing is one of the oldest forms of human communication.  Humans have used the sensory activity of writing to celebrate, inspire, imagine, rejoice and despair, since as early as 3000 BC.

Journaling can take on many different forms including collage, drawing and writing.  There are three main types of journal writing:

  • Self-esteem journal:  Prompts are again often used here to reflect for example:  I felt proud when… Something I did really well today
  • Stream of consciousness journal:  This type of journaling does not require prompts as just free writing.  The physical act of writing down everything that is happening or has happened in your life.  There is flexibility to this approach to allow the writer to express whatever is on their mind:
  • Gratitude journaling: This type of journaling allows you to think of things you are grateful for, not matter how small.  Writers are prompted to think of three things they are grateful for each day.

Journaling has been used a lot in health care to support well-being and has recently been introduced in neonatal and perinatal settings.  Recently Laura Godfrey Issacs, a midwife and artist ran a Maternal Journal group pilot at Kings College London’ to explore how creative journaling can support pregnant woman and new mothers with a history of mild to moderate mental health problems.

Have a look at these short videos to learn more about the project.

Their website www.maternaljournal.org has a whole host of resources to guide you through setting up a maternal journal group

The benefits of journaling have also been explored in other settings.  Russell et al (2021) completed a pilot study evaluating a brief parent journaling program in the NICU.  They concluded that journal use rates and positive feedback support the acceptability of NICU journaling program. Jones (2012) explored the use of a diary for relatives of patients receiving intensive care, to help reduce the level of PTSD, they also concluded that the use of journaling helped psychological recover in patient’s families after critical illness.

Ideas for Journaling groups

  1. Self-care trees:  think about each of the senses, what activities do you enjoy?  Write about what helps you feel calm, relaxed, invigorated?  What sensory activities do you feel grateful for?
  2. Story Starters:  Write about your day, your birth, the first time you held your baby.
  3. Visual prompts:  Using photographs to prompt how you feel.
  4. Write letters to loved ones
  5. Practice poems

Sensory Beginnings Neonatal Journal

Our neonatal journal has been recently published and is designed for parents on the neonatal unit.  It combines developmental information to support parents through their journey, while also providing a space to reflect and record how you are feeling each week.  The journal helps parents:

  • Learn about each of their baby’s eight sensory systems.
  • Understand how their baby is communicating with them.
  • Parenting on the neonatal unit
  • Learn how they can support their baby’s development.
  • The importance of self-care, what sensory activities help parents stay calm and in the green zone.
  • Opportunity to journal and reflect on what is happening each day.
  • Space to place those special photos.
  • Thoughtful prompts to help them record your memories and celebratory moments. 

For more information and to buy our Sensory Neonatal Journal, please click here.

We offer discounts for wholesale orders for hospitals and unit and parenting group. Please contact us here, if you’d like to find out more.

References

  1. Bandini J., Rollison J., Feistel K., Whitaker L., Bialas A., Etchegaray J. Home care aide safety concerns and job challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. New Solut.: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy. 2021;31(1):20–29. doi: 10.1177/1048291120987845. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
  2. Emmons R.A., McCullough M.E. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 2003;84(2):377–389. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.377. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
  3. Horton, A. G., Gibson, K. B., & Curington, A. M. (2021). Exploring reflective journaling as a learning tool: An interdisciplinary approach. Archives of psychiatric nursing, 35(2), 195 – 199.
  4. Monk, Lynda and Folit, Ruth. “How to Journal – Your Complete Guide to Getting Started with Journaling.” International Association for Journal Writing. September 6, 2019.
  5. Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of abnormal psychology, 95(3), 274.

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