What happens when we write? The value of journaling

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Journaling in my every day life

Over the last few years I have written a lot of words.  Mostly I’m writing by hand, with a blue pen, on a lined A4 pad. I have a diary and I write out all my business thoughts, ideas and plans in longhand before they are typed up and loaded into my laptop.  I greatly enjoy writing things down and always feel quite energised when I have done so.  But I wasn’t really thinking about what happens when we write.  What effects the actual physical act of writing by hand is having on the brain.

In the last couple of years I have learnt to do a ‘thought download’ and get all my thoughts on paper, and then examine them. Again, I really feel the benefit of it.  My brain feels alive, and I feel more connected with myself, but I wasn’t actually thinking about what happens when we write, I was more concentrated on the results that I was getting.

And now it seems that the positive feelings I experience when I journal have a basis in science.  So I did a little research into what happens in our brains when we write and how can we use that in our every day lives and even in our relationship with ourselves that will help us live a life more in tune with who we are

woman in a beanie sitting on a bed with a journal, pencil in hand. Accompanies the blog post about the value of writing by hand

Journaling and science

Over the last few years, the act of journaling has increasingly been regarded by psychologists and researchers as a valid stress management tool and not just a ‘woo woo’ way of tuning in with ourselves.  Not that we need scientific validation to give authority to private practices which are already giving great value in our lives.

What I have learnt is how valuable writing by hand is, from a scientific standpoint as well as an emotional perspective.

So, what do we know about journaling, about the hand/mind connection, the actual physical act of writing manually, on paper, not typing on a keyboard, and what effect that might have on the brain?  And how might that help you live an amazing life and show up each day living fully and with total commitment to the day?

Woman with long red hair sitting writing with a white pen. Accompanies the blog post "What happens when we write? The value of journaling."

Writing by hand releases creativity

Firstly, writing by hand releases creativity.  The act of writing accesses the left, analytical and rational, hand side of the brain.  This leaves the right side of the brain free to create, intuit and feel.  So, writing can help remove mental blocks and allow you to use all of your brain power to better understand yourself.

High-tec magnetic resonance imaging show that handwriting increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain, similar to meditation.  So writing, or journaling, relaxes us.  We know this anecdotally.  Spend twenty minutes getting your thoughts on paper and you feel your problems lift.  And this is why: the neural activity in parts of your brain is increased, and, as a consequence, you relax.

Writing by hand sharpens the brain

Secondly, writing by hand sharpens the brain and helps us learn – sequential hand movements, like those used in handwriting, activate large regions of the brain responsible for thinking, language, healing and working memory.  So the actual act of journaling is a completely positive work out for the brain. Studies have shown that expressive writing may lead to faster recovery from injury and gratitude journal writers experience longer – and better – sleep.

woman sitting in bed reading her journal. the cover of the bed is a fur blanket. She is wearing a striped jumper. Accompanies the blog post "What happens when we write? The value of journaling."

How to exercise your brain

Thirdly, which leads on from number two, the brain is a muscle and needs to be exercised to be kept fit.  Left unchecked, the brain is also a little bit lazy.  It wants to seek pleasure, avoid pain and stay at rest (by expending the least amount of energy).  This means that, often, your brain would rather stay on autopilot and in habit and routine mode.  This is fine for routine activities: get up; get dressed; go to work; come home; cook supper; eat; go to bed.

However, if you want to change what your routine is, or understand what you are really thinking underneath that layer of routine, then you will need a tool that gives you the ability to think clearly and analyse your thoughts.  And journaling will do that for you.

How to journal

There is no barrier to entry with journalling, just get going!  You can write about anything, just use the time to get your thoughts on paper.

 Other blog posts you may like

How do I start journaling? What should I journal daily? What is journaling?

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