We know that writing with pen and paper is good for your brain. But it’s also good for your heart and soul. Researchers have found that people who practice expressive writing — that is, writing to help make sense of your thoughts and emotions — can experience mental and emotional benefits, including a reduction in stress, anxiety and depression and greater clarity and focus. They may even experience physical benefits. What better reasons to put pen to paper?
If you’ve been paying attention to paper trends, you already know that handwriting and journaling have made a huge comeback in recent years. Daily journaling can be calming and peaceful at the end of a busy day or in the midst of an emotionally difficult time.
“Especially with social media, a lot of people are recognizing that being digitally connected is eating up a lot of time and energy,” says Tammy Tufty, Domtar’s communications manager for paper advocacy. “They’re seeing that maybe we should go back to journaling, reading more books and just being more present.”
Why Is Journaling Good for the Soul?
James W. Pennebaker has a Ph.D. in psychology and is Regents Centennial professor at the University of Texas at Austin. His groundbreaking research on the topic of expressive writing showed that journaling not only improves our sense of mental wellbeing but also triggers actual physical benefits, such as improved immune function and faster healing.
While Pennebaker and his colleagues are focused on the scientific evidence of the benefits of writing, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that the act of journaling helps people better understand their emotions.
“Writing has a healing effect, like a nice massage,” wrote a blogger for ADDitude, a magazine and website that focuses on ADHD. “It is comforting, like a cup of tea or a warm fireplace on a chilly night. … Journaling helps me make sense of happy and sad moments.”
Journaling can also help people with ADHD solve problems more efficiently: “Typically, we problem-solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. Sometimes the better answer is found by engaging the intuition that comes from the right brain. Writing unlocks this side of the brain and brings an opportunity for unexpected solutions.”
The benefits aren’t limited to writing full sentences, either. Doodling on paper can also provide a sense of calm and help improve concentration.
“I’ve seen it with my own kids and with other professionals,” Tufty says. “While they’re doodling or drawing, it seems like they’re not paying attention, but actually they are because that activity is helping them stay focused.”
Begin Your Expressive Writing Journey
Whether you’re actively working through some emotional trauma or you just enjoy the calming effect of expressive writing or doodling, it’s clear that putting pen to paper is a great way to improve your mood.
Start your journaling journey by choosing your pen and paper. You don’t need anything fancy, but you should choose tools that make it easy and enjoyable to sit down to write. Maybe it’s a gel pen that writes smoothly in a color you love, or perhaps it’s a leather-bound journal that makes you smile when you touch the cover.
You might even choose a new journal with a cover design that uses Pantone’s color of the year: Classic Blue. “Blue is a really calm color,” Tufty says. “I find it interesting that Pantone chose it in a year where everything seems so unsettled. But it could be really helpful to choose a journal design with a calming color that inspires creativity and encourages you to connect pen to paper for journaling.”
Pennebaker, whose work on expressive writing and healing continues to influence psychologists, counselors and other mental health professionals, offers some practical advice for expressive writing.
- Find a time and a place where you won’t be disturbed. Pennebaker suggests picking a time at the end of your workday or before you go to bed, but really any time of day can work as long as you can write without interruption.
- Commit to writing for at least 15 minutes every day.
- Once you begin, write without stopping to correct spelling or grammar. If you run out of things to write before your time is up, you can repeat what you’ve already written.
- What you write and how you write it is completely up to you. There are no rules.
- When you have finished your expressive writing, you can save it, burn it, erase it, tear it up or shred it. Since your writing is for you and you alone, you can decide what to do with it.