Could a journal actually lead one to health and well-being? As both a writer and health enthusiast, this is a question I've given lots of thought to. As it turns out, I'm not the only one. Upon further research, there's been a considerable amount of press given to the idea that your journal could be a path to health and wellness. In fact, Southern Methodist University and Ohio State University College of Medicine studied the effects of creative journaling and found it conclusive in cleansing negative emotions and promoting a sense of well-being.
In my own experience as a writer (and I think most creative types will agree) being creative is not just an exercise, work or discipline - it's a necessity. In fact, I never quite understood my own personality until I was immersed full-time in a purely science, left-brained college program. I would often feel tired, lethargic and uninspired (clearly there was more at fault here than having to memorize the phone book).
According to Carl Jung and Myers-Briggs (the creators of standardized personality and interest testing) introverted types draw energy from themselves and less from other people. We like to be alone a lot and give lots of thought to the world at large. Our extroverted counterparts, on the other hand, can also be equally as creative, but tend to draw their energy from others. Either way you go, emotions can sometimes become overwhelming, need to be filtered then let go.
Over time, (even amidst the sterile science program) I've learned that I can find peace quickly by turning to my notebook when upset or in need of inspiration. And - I'd be willing to guess - this idea is not exclusive to the right-brained.
So back to the original thesis: Regardless of personality, can writing be useful to you and your health? Hopefully, by now I've convinced you it can. How to get journaling working for you? Well, that's where I'll step in - here I've given you three of my favorite exercises to help get you started.
In her book Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg has outlined a sure-fire method to invoke the muses and get the inspiration flowing... timed writings.
Timed writings go something like this... collect your materials: timer, notebook and pen. Sit at your desk or wherever the spirit takes you (Starbucks, Borders, Barnes & Noble) launch your timer for ten minutes, place pen to paper and see what comes forth.
There are only two rules at play here: don't stop writing and continue for the full ten minutes. Afraid you'll run out of things to write? No problem. When you get stuck just keep the hand moving along and write things like, "I am looking for something to write.... I am looking for something to write..." before you know it you'll be carrying on a conversation with yourself.
Anger is always a good muse, but I tend to use this emotion as a catalyst to creativity. Something or someone upsetting you? Get creative and purge your negative energy. How? Write a letter. You won't need to send it. In fact as a ritual to closure I have been known to write angry letters then shred them, burn them or (insert your idea here). In fact this exercise has been shown to heal negative energy and provoke closure with angry emotions. Try it - then let me know (email Laura).
Creative Journaling Exercises
When I am feeling less that inspired, or want to get the muses warmed up I sometimes like to take creative writing classes online or off, or do some creative journaling exercises. If you like the idea of sharing your writing, take a creative writing course nearby. Check your local Chamber of Commerce or if you prefer the convenience of online classes there's lots to choose from. I've taken courses online at Gotham Writers' Workshops with positive results.
However, if you'd like to go it solo, give this exercise a try. This one was created by my Mother, Donna. She is a writer, artist and teacher (a real right-brainer!), she handed this exercise to me when I was feeling stuck and uninspired. Not only does this exercise stimulate your creativity, use this healthy exercise to get you thinking about taking time for yourself.
Have your notebook ready? Set your timer again if you'd like and aim to come up with the list "20 things that make me happy." If your time was entirely your own, what are the 20 things you'd want to do?
Ready? Now hit your timer and take this one for a test drive. When you've finished, put your pen and paper away.
Tomorrow take a few quiet moments and bring out your list again, add delete and edit. Now when you're not feeling like yourself, take this list out and copy it over again. Try to take time everyday to do one thing that makes you happy and continue over time to add to your list. Keep up your practice and you'll find - happiness is not just a fixture in your mind.