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For many, it’s common knowledge that journaling about life events that are detrimental aids in the coping process. Journaling in and of itself has been proven to help clarify thoughts, understand more about who you are, reduce stress, solve problems and resolve disputes with other individuals with clearer perspective. Overall, journaling has been said to help one’s health and wellbeing.
But further studies on the benefits of journaling have been completed, and do somewhat contradict prior findings in some cases. According to a study which evaluated the effects of “expressive writing” (writing about emotions or feelings), some people with a certain personality trait of “brooding” (showing unhappiness) may not benefit from journaling expressively.
Participants were taken from a sample of individuals who had just completed a divorce months before. They were split into 3 groups and given assignments. Those who were told to expressively write about their divorce and the emotions they held over their separation showed a higher correlation with worse emotional disturbances than those who were simply told to journal (the control group) about their lives after divorce. The study also showed, through psychological evaluation, that those who showed a general unhappiness benefitted least from expressively writing.
Another study expanded on the findings of this study, which evaluated a larger sample to see what effects expressive writing (vs. general journaling) would have on average heart rate, heart rate variability, and blood pressure. The study found that expressive writing (in narrative form) about a divorce had a positive impact on heart rate variability, even on individuals who tended to relive negative emotions in their writing. So, even individuals who still struggled with their lives post-divorce showed improvements in heart rate variability. These are somewhat strange findings, but as a reminder, these are correlations – meaning this is not definitive proof.
Essentially, social psychologists have, for years and years, shown that construction of life narratives through writing can have great benefits on both psychological and physiological health. However, according to these two interacting studies, those who have undergone a divorce and tend to write expressively, ruminating on negative emotions, might want to stray from journaling.