It takes a great amount of psychological and physiological energy to withhold emotions. It also takes much energy to be wrestling with decisions and in feeling stuck or burdened. When we hold on to feelings and indecisions, this stresses our bodies; we become irritable, sullen, achy and fatigued.
Disclosing (often for the first time) and releasing our anger, fear, worry, guilt and sadness helps manage this stress, even when we are only acknowledging our feelings to ourselves. In fact, some people have difficulty expressing their joy or sense of accomplishment to themselves and others.
One way of releasing feelings is through journaling or expressive writing. Journaling is an ancient form of personal expression that can be used to enhance physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Journaling differs from writing in a diary as journaling deals more with feelings and sorting issues out than details of day-to-day (diary) events.
Journals are a safe place to express the things that we don’t want to share with others. Journaling can help us identify the source of our anxieties, anger and pain. Once identified, then we can work to change or improve such situations. Journaling helps put to paper emotions, images, memories, dreams, possibilities and indecisions, with research showing that people who journal are able to work through issues faster.
Dr. James Pennebaker’s research explored the biological and health effects of anonymously disclosing secrets and traumatic events. He found that those who wrote about their traumatic experiences reported fewer minor illnesses, fewer visits to the doctor, a decrease in the number of days off work, and had a more optimistic outlook on life than those who only wrote about ordinary events.
Ohio State University College of Medicine research has found that journaling improves the immune system function. Another study found that after three months of writing about their deepest thoughts and feelings about breast cancer, the women reported one-third fewer symptoms than women who were asked to simply write about the facts around their treatment.
There is no right or wrong way to journal. When working with making a decision, use a ‘pros and cons’ list, noting any fears, apprehensions or other emotions that surface. Write a story, poem or song, dialog with a person you are in conflict or infatuated with. Write a letter that you don’t intend to send. One can even sketch a feeling or image and then word associate around the visual. See what comes up in mind and emotion.
As ideas come up, keep tapping into the feelings around the thoughts. Notice your body gestures. Be curious. Hum. Stay with any new idea or insight. How does this feel? The idea is to create an outlet for the thoughts and emotions you are holding onto so healing can begin.
As with any self-awareness tool (e.g., meditation, yoga), we may resist sitting down and actually journaling. Use this resistance to question what currently is happening that ego perhaps does not want to face.