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Journaling Your Feelings

Getting your feelings down in writing can be a great release and could actually make you a happier, healthier person.

It's common knowledge that bottling up your feelings is an unhealthy choice. What most people don't know, however, is that writing them down can actually improve your health.

James Pennebaker is a research psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin who studies how journal writing -- popularly known as "journaling" -- helps some people reduce their need for doctor visits. In his book "Writing to Heal," Pennebaker discloses some amazing statistics. Study participants who wrote about personal trauma made 43 percent fewer doctor visits and were healthier than those in a control group that wrote about mundane topics. Pennebaker explains that when we write about difficult issues in our lives, "Heart rates slow, blood pressure drops and immune systems strengthen."

Even if you've been holding on to an emotional wound for an extended period of time, it's not too late to benefit from journaling about your pain. Though initially you might feel sad recalling hurtful events, the long-term benefits can trump the sadness. One reason for this is that writing down what's bothering you can give a sense of control over things that might have felt out of your control as they occurred. "By writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings," Pennebaker explains. "It helps you to get past them."

Journal writing also offers the promise of privacy. Sometimes, no matter how badly you want to get something off your chest, just the thought of "confessing" a secret to even your closest friends can feel too painful. Perhaps you're afraid you'll be judged, or your friends will be upset. By putting such hard-to-discuss thoughts in a journal, you get the benefit of "telling" without the potential fallout from telling the wrong person.

You don't even have to hang on to what you write down. If you're worried someone will read your journal, Pennebaker says you can write down your feelings then destroy the paper afterwards. The key is putting the information down, not keeping a record of it.

Blogging -- keeping a public journal or "web blog" online -- is seen by some as an alternative to journaling. The two forms of expression do have common elements, a key one being catharsis, with the writer putting down whatever first comes to mind.

Blogging can have the added benefit of helping the writer forge a sense of community with readers who can relate to a post. MSNBC reported a story in which cancer patient Perry Kairis used his blog to help him deal with his battle against lymphoma. In that story, Kairis's doctor praised his patient's choice. "The benefits are tremendous," said Dr. Chinn. "You're basically creating your own virtual therapy and the good thing is you can cut in and cut out when you choose to and you can do it at your own pace."

While blogging can be another way to write down difficult feelings in the interest of understanding them and finding resolution, some caution is advised. Just as it is easy to fire off an angry email in the heat of an emotional moment and later regret it, bloggers can be too quick to post information they later might wish they hadn't.

Remember that one big difference between a journal and a blog is that you can burn your journals, or at least keep them well hidden. Once a blog post is up, even if you take it down, there's a chance it might still be floating around out there in cyberspace, waiting to be picked up by a search engine that can track stored copies of old web pages.



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