American researchers published an article a few years ago in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, showing that journalling can be an effective tool in managing mental health.
The researchers randomly assigned the 122 participants into one of 3 groups: emotional expression, cognitions and emotions, and control. Over a period of a month, all 3 groups were to write at least twice a week in a journal about the following assignments:
Write about their deepest feelings about a past traumatic event that still causes stress for them.
Cognitions and emotions
Write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about a past traumatic event that still causes stress for them, but also to discuss how they have tried to make sense of the event and how they have tried to deal with it.
Write about a media story regarding loss and trauma, focusing on the facts regarding the event.
On average, participants wrote 8.2 journal entries, with an average of 221 words per entry. Topics included death of family members, romantic relationship difficulties, family conflict, academic difficulties, and serious illness.
What the researchers discovered was that of the 3 groups, only the cognitions and emotions group reported increases in positive growth. The other groups reported no change in growth.
The finding of increased positive growth in only the cognitions and emotions group suggests that engagement of both cognitions and emotions while journaling about a stressful or traumatic experience can raise awareness of the benefits of the event. In contrast, focusing solely on the emotional aspects of traumas may not produce a greater understanding of traumatic events. Similarly, the passage of time alone does not seem to facilitate positive growth from a traumatic event.
It is important to not only deal with our emotions regarding trauma and stress, but also analyze how the event has engaged us mentally.
University of Rochester Medical Center outlines 4 tips for finding success in journalling for improved mental health:
- Write every day.
- Make it easy.
- Write whatever feels right.
- Use your journal as you see fit.