Does Writing a Journal Help Depression?

In today’s blog post, we answer the question,’Does Writing a Journal Help Depression?’. We begin by understanding what depression along with its symptoms and causes and how it impacts the different spheres of an individual’s life. We then put a special focus on journaling as a way to cope by understanding some facts about journaling, ways to start journaling and its benefits and finally, briefly view other ways in which depression can be dealt with.

Does Writing a Journal Help Depression?

Depression can be a long standing mental illness for a huge number of people. Several researchers believe that journal writing can be helpful in improving mood and managing the symptoms of depression. Studies have also shown that journaling can have several benefits on the general mental health of the person as well. 

Although it is well understood that journaling cannot ‘cure’ the person from the issue they may be experiencing, it definitely serves to be an adaptive way of channelising the emotions and thoughts.

Depression:

Depression is a mood disorder characterised by feelings of irritability, anger, sadness, numbness and loss. These feelings have the capacity of causing interference in the day-to-day living of the person and causes significant impairment in the social and occupational functioning. 

It can affect the levels of productivity, relationships and can also make the person susceptible to developing chronic medical conditions such as ulcers, asthma, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and obesity.

Symptoms of depression:

  • Disturbed mood which is characterised by anger, aggressiveness, crying spells, irritability, anxiousness and restlessness.
  • Lower emotional wellbeing marked by feelings of emptiness, sadness, hopelessness.
  • Lack of sexual interest (in adults)
  • Effects on cognition, such as talking slowly, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, difficulty in completing tasks
  • Effects on behaviour such as withdrawal from social engagements,decline in school performance, suicidal behaviour,no longer finding pleasure in favourite activities, smoking, substance and intoxicating drink abuse.
  • Sleep disturbance in terms of inability to initiate sleep or maintain sleep as well as excessive sleeping.
  • Deterioration of physical health such as fatigue, appetite loss, eating too much,pains, headaches, weight gain or loss, digestive and bowel movement issues.

Causes:

  • Family History

 Family history of depression due to the genetic vulnerability can increase the person’s chances of developing depression.

  • Early childhood trauma:

 Early trauma, especially unresolved trauma can affect the way the mind and body react to stress thereby increasing the risk of depression.

  • Brain structure:

 Studies show that less activity in the frontal lobe of the brain increases the individual’s susceptibility to developing depression.

  • Other medical/mental health conditions: 

Depression may often occur as a comorbid condition to other medical conditions such as cancer, accidents, heart diseases as well as mental health conditions such as ADHD, Anxiety,Insomnia.

  • Drug use: 

Depression can occur as a withdrawal symptom in the context of drug use.

Impact of depression:

  • Affects the quality of life:

Because depression leads to significant impairment in the social and occupational functioning and also hampers the emotions, cognition and the behavioural functioning of the person, the overall quality of life suffers. This is manifested in the form of disruption of family life, marital breakdown and hopelessness.

This is also accompanied by a lack of interest in previously liked activities, fatigue, lethargy, poor concentration, anxiety, sexual dysfunctions, aggression. 

  • Affects employment:

Depression also significantly affects the individual’s employment status. In the sphere of employment, there is a significant stigma attached to depression. Studies have shown that about 70% of employees face a detrimental impact after disclosing their condition at the workplace.

 It is often seen that the co-workers and the organisation may not offer adequate emotional and other support to the employees suffering from depression, which increases their proportion of turnovers, lowered levels of job satisfaction, lowered productivity and further fosters their levels of depression by having them stick to the cycle of rumination and intrusive thoughts about self. 

  • Loss of sleep and appetite:

Sleep is important for healthy functioning of the brain and the body and people with depression often experience sleep disturbances which are either in the form of excess sleep or no sleep at all.

Appetite also takes a hit wherein the person may not eat at all or may engage in binge eating.

The dysfunction in sleep and appetite leads to behavioural and cognitive changes.

  • Promotes escape mechanisms:

As a result of the debilitating impact of depression, an individual may also choose escape mechanisms in most severe cases such as drug abuse, intoxicating drink abuse, unsafe sexual practices,engagement in impulsive and socially delinquent behaviour, smoking, self-harm and suicidal ideations and action.

As a consequence of these escape mechanisms, a person may develop comorbid conditions, such as intoxicating drink and drug addictions, gambling addiction, impulse control disorders, antisocial personality disorders to name a few.

Coping with depression through journaling:

Journaling or effective journaling is a practice that helps a person meet their goals or improve the quality of their lives. Journaling can be effective as it helps in clearing the head, identify the connection between different thoughts, emotions and behaviours and also act as a buffer against future mental illnesses. 

Journaling has shown to be a very effective way of coping and managing depression. No research claims that journaling can replace professional help, but it certainly serves as an adaptive way of dealing with the illness. 

Some facts about journaling:

  • Journaling has shown to be beneficial in reducing the depression caused by intimate partner violence, in women.
  • Journaling has shown as having similar benefits as those seen due to cognitive behaviour therapy.
  • Journaling can help college students reduce brooding and rumination, making them less susceptible to developing depression.
  • Journaling helps in moderating the impact of depression symptoms.

How to start journaling?

  • Start by writing for a few minutes everyday. Writing everyday at a fixed time can help cultivate the habit.
  • Keep it less complicated. A simple paper and pen can be used. Using expensive and intricate stationary can be messy.
  • Write whatever you feel is right. No one apart from the person writing it is going to review it. Therefore one should not be conscious about being ‘correct’ while journaling. 

The journal is made for the purpose of putting down the thoughts and emotions just the way they are being experienced. 

How does it help?

  • Increases awareness:

Journaling helps the person to know himself or herself in a better way. In the process of writing the journal, the person may write a thought, emotion or the urge to behave in a certain way that they may not know that they had unless they wrote about it. It helps in bringing the unconscious thoughts and emotions to the surface. 

  • Helps in taking control:

Racing thoughts and different emotions can overwhelm the person making everything chaotic. The person may feel less in control of their mind. By putting the thoughts and emotions on paper, the person can make them more comprehensible, getting the person more in control of the situation. 

It also helps the person come back to reality, gets things into perspective and helps the person feel empowered. 

  • Shifts the view point:

As the person writes, he or she can make sense of the thoughts and emotions that are being put up and can also understand the irrationality behind some of their thoughts. Journaling helps the person to replace the negative self talk with a more positive self talk.

  • Catharsis:

Journaling facilitates the process of catharsis, that is; venting out, but in an adaptive manner. It also helps the person provide themselves with a safe space, where they will not be judged or questioned for feeling or thinking in a particular way. Venting out in this manner gives them greater insight and clarity into their own thought process. 

While in catharsis, the person is often asked to ignore the language, grammar, punctuations and simply write s thoughts come to them. In some cases, they may also be asked to tear the page or burn the page after writing it to complete the catharsis. 

  • Writing regularly:

Writing regularly is more beneficial than writing once in a while. Writing regularly for 20 minutes helps in clearing the mind on a day-to-day basis, leaving little room for pent up emotions or thoughts. 

  • Variations in journaling:

In some days, instead of just writing a journal, the person can write letters to oneself. This can help the person understand newer and positive qualities about the self that can help bolster their confidence, reduce feelings of self-pity and self-criticism and increase their self-worth.

  • Fosters gratitude:

In the process of journaling the person may also come across different things that he or she may be thankful for. Gratitude fosters a different perspective on the situation and helps to shift the person’s attention on to positive aspects of life.it will also foster a sense of optimism and happiness. 

  • An exercise for emotional intelligence:

Journaling fosters emotional intelligence by helping the person put the emotions in appropriate words, making it less chaotic. It also gives the person different ways of regulating their emotions so that they do not feel excessively overwhelmed by it.

 Other ways of coping with depression:

  • Staying connected:

This essentially comprises having a healthy and a positive social support which may comprise of the family, friends, acquaintances. Depression often pushes the people into isolation and they avoid making social contact, however, maintaining social contact can make the coping process easier.

  • Doing things that make you feel good:

This can include taking up a new hobby or rejuvenating an old one. It may also include taking up small tasks at home and around. Playing a sport, exercising, singing or reading can also help.

  • Sleeping well:

Maintaining a sound sleep hygiene is essential while trying to cope with depression. Practicing relaxation techniques before sleeping can be helpful.

  • Challenge the negative thoughts:

Negative thoughts and rumination is a major trigger in depression. Challenging the negative thoughts through disputing the thought and replacing it with a rational and logical thought can help change perspective. 

  • Seeking professional help:

Although these methods can help cope with depression, they are not solutions to depressions. Seeking professional help becomes essential if the person feels that the symptoms are beyond the control of the person.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Does journaling help with emotions?

Journaling helps in making sense of the emotions, helps understand the pattern of emotions and reduces stress, enhances problem solving and overall improvement in health.

How does journaling affect the brain?

Journaling enhances memory, comprehension, increases the capacity of the brain and boosts mood.

Are there alternatives to journaling?

Yes. Some alternatives to traditional journaling can be video journaling, photo journals, doodle journals and scrapbooks.

Do gratitude journals really work?

Yes. gratitude journals have shown to make people feel happier and in better health as compared to those who did not practice gratitude journaling.

What is the 5 minute journal?

The five minute journal provides daily gratitude activities to help the person focus on having a good life. The journal can help the person elevate their mood, feel happier, improve relationships, and increase optimism.

Conclusion:

In today’s blog post, we answered the question,’Does Writing a Journal Help Depression?’. We began by understanding what depression along with its symptoms and causes and how it impacts the different spheres of an individual’s life. We then put a special focus on journaling as a way to cope by understanding some facts about journaling, ways to start journaling and its benefits  and finally briefly viewed other ways in which depression can be dealt with.

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References:

https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/writing-your-way-out-of-depression#1

https://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_determinants/life_style/mental/docs/insidestory.pdf

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/coping-with-depression.htm

https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1

https://www.rtor.org/2019/06/12/how-writing-can-improve-your-mental-health/

https://unsplash.com/photos/xcvXS6wDCAY?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

https://unsplash.com/photos/Y3OrAn230bs?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

https://unsplash.com/photos/CPs2X8JYmS8?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

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