Journaling and expressive writing are proven stress reduction techniques. We share some research and tips for effective journaling!

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We’ve already talked about proven stress reduction techniques such as yoga and mindfulness. We know your ability to manage stress is important for your own well-being and your productivity at work. Therefore, we want to share with you another proven technique to help manage stress and improve your mood – writing in a journal!

Journaling occurs in many forms. Some people enjoy writing in a journal about their day and what’s going on in their lives. Others spend time reflecting on their emotions or what they are grateful for that day. There are many articles in the media describing the health benefits and stress reduction benefits of expressive writing. Today we want to share some of the research behind journaling and expressive writing and provide some concrete tips for you to incorporate this practice in your life!

The Science Behind Journaling

There’s a breadth of research into interventions that can help people increase what researchers call their personal resources, including things like positive mood, happiness,  attention, and memory. Using these interventions in the workplace can have an impact on employees’ performance, their relationships and interactions with coworkers, and overall well-being. Expressive writing and writing exercises are interventions specific to journaling.

A person writing in a life planner with a coffee and a croissant on the desk
I think all writing sessions should include a croissant.

Expressive Writing

Expressive writing is most commonly an intervention where participants are asked to write for 15 to 30 minutes about a personally emotional experience or issue. The participants are asked to explore their deepest emotions and thoughts surrounding the issue, without concerning themselves with grammar, spelling, or sentence structure. They are encouraged to keep writing continuously until the time is up.

In a study combining results across numerous studies, the impact of expressive writing was found to be statistically significant in a number of areas. First, those that participated in expressive writing interventions saw reduced distress, stress symptoms, and depression and improved mood, life satisfaction, happiness, and optimism. This large study also found some physical and reported health improvements including liver function. Many participants felt that they effectively processed or made sense of an emotional experience by writing in this way. Finally, the study found a positive impact on work (such as improved performance and attendance) and cognitive functioning (such as improved working memory). It was also clear that these results are long-lasting, meaning people continue to see benefits months after completing these writing exercises.

Writing Exercises 

In addition to expressive writing, there are a number of positive psychology-based writing exercises with proven results. These interventions include:

  • Best possible selves: Participants are asked to imagine and write about their life in the future where everything has gone as well as possible and they have realized their life goals. Some interventions include the option to write about their best possible self in a past situation.
  • Gratitude: Participants journal or list things that they are grateful for over the past day, week, etc.
  • Three Good Things: Participants list three good things or events during the day and what caused those things to happen.
Workr Beeing Journal
Having a fun notebook helps motivate writing. We got these made recently and love them!

These positive psychology interventions have been found to be related to well-being, including things like life satisfaction.

Tips for Starting Your Journal

Using the above methods can really help you harness the power of writing in a journal. First, you need to pick a journal or notebook! This is always a fun part of the process. I like to find one that inspires me in someway or has a fun design. I really enjoy May Designs since you can personalize your notebooks (we made Workr Beeing notebooks through them). They even have gratitude journal pages as an option. There are so many other blank notebooks or even gratitude journals available for your choosing.

Once you have chosen your notebook, it’s time to create your setting and schedule. Most people do well with writing either first thing in the morning or in the evening before bed. Find a quiet space in your home, away from distraction and family members. You need to be able to focus and reflect during your writing. If you have a self-care ritual in the morning, this would be a good practice to add to that time.

A fountain pen on an open journal
Fancy pens can be fun when journaling!

Now that you have a notebook, a writing location, and a plan, you need to figure out what to write! I suggest you try a variety of these methods to see what works best for you. You want to choose the practice that makes you feel the best and is the most realistic for you to do consistently. Also, keep in mind that you should not worry about grammar, spelling, or writing structure. Just write during the allotted amount of time.

Here’s my recommendation for the first few weeks:

  1. Start with one week of expressive writing. Take 15 to 20 minutes to really reflect on an emotional issue or experience you are facing. This should be a difficult topic, something you wouldn’t normally want to write or talk about much. Take the full time to explore your emotions on the topic. Do this exercise 3 to 5 times during your first week. At the end of the week, reflect on how the experience worked for you.
  2. Take the next 2 weeks to go through the other writing exercises. Spend 2 to 3 days writing about your best self. Try one day of writing about your best future self and try at least one day of reflecting on a past best self.
  3. Following the best self exercise, take 3 to 5 days writing about 5 to 10 things you are grateful for that day. You can make it a list or write it out.
  4. Finally, spend 3 to 5 days working on 3 good things. List out 3 good things that happened during that day (or the day before if writing in the morning) and what caused those good things.
  5. After your 3 weeks testing the waters, reflect on what methods worked best for you. Feel free to mix and match as you like. Just ensure you are writing consistently while reflecting on the topics at hand.

Good luck! We hope you find this practice helpful. Don’t judge yourself if you find it difficult. It will probably take some adjustment to write so frequently and so freely about your feelings.

We would love to hear from you after you’ve started your practice to hear how it is going. If you already do this, please also reach out and let us know your experience!



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