Do you ever feel the need to sit down and organize your thoughts but have no idea where to start? I’ve felt this way before, but, surprisingly, it never occurred to me to just take some time to write about what was on my mind. As an English journalism major, I have done hundreds of free writing exercises for classes, but now, after trying free writing (journaling) for overall stress relief, I realize my professors might have been on to something.
At first when I sat down to journal, I had no idea where to begin. There was a blank piece of paper and a pencil in front of me, and whatever happened next was completely in my control. Looking back, I feel as if that was a big part of what I liked about it — having complete control of what I put down on that paper. If you are stressed or you’re feeling as if you have no control over finals or other things going on in your life, I would encourage you to write about it. If you’re not sure how to start, try this article.
Once I made the time to journal, I truly felt more relaxed. I started by writing down some of the things that I was worried or stressed about, and then I wrote why I was stressed about them. This not only made me feel more organized but also the things causing me to worry looked a little less scary on paper. In addition, I was able to think more clearly while writing.
Over the past few weeks I have been learning a lot about mental health and therapy. Stress has a huge impact on a person’s mental health. I have been exploring some of the ways that students can relieve stress on their own and without spending a lot of money. Journaling is one way to do this. All you need is a pen and paper!
Doctor James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at The University of Texas, has found that expressive writing contributes positively to one’s physical and mental health. He also found through his research that more than 70 percent of the participants in his research study reported that writing helped them understand themselves and their experiences better, and most students reported a variety of health benefits, such as:
- increased immune system functioning;
- reduced stress levels;
- lower blood pressure;
- normalized sleep and eating habits;
- reduction in symptoms of a chronic illness;
- improvement in memory;
- decreased feelings of anxiety, anger and depression, and
- the ability to communicate better with others.
Pennebaker’s book “Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions” details his study of the effects of college students’ journaling.
Journaling is not just for times of stress. Gratitude journaling can also be therapeutic. With Thanksgiving having just passed, it’s a good time to contemplate thankfulness and think about the future, and journaling is an excellent way to do this. I started journaling the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the process made me greatly appreciate what I have.
Still not convinced journaling can help you? Here are 8 Reasons Keeping a Journal Can Help You Reach Your Goals.
I have often found that whenever I try something new, it helps to have the support of peers and maybe a little bit of advising. You need not figure out journaling on your own! In February, UNH Health Services will hold two Expressive Writing Workshops called “Write Within” and led by wellness educator and counselor Dawn Zitney. Each workshop is a series of four sessions. The first workshop begins in February, and the second begins in March. Reserve your spot now!
Dawn says that journaling helps her personally and she is excited to begin the workshop.
“I have personally used expressive writing as a way to cope with life’s challenges and have found it very therapeutic,” Dawn says. “Sometimes you just don’t feel like talking, and writing is a good alternative.”
If you do not think you are good at writing, if you are scared or just not feeling motivated, try attending this workshop. You will get some great advice on the process of healing through writing. The healing process starts with you taking steps to help yourself, and you might have some fun while you’re at it!