• Staff Writer

Benefits of Journaling in Recovery

Updated: Feb 1

Journaling can increase positivity and reduce general stress levels during and after treatment for substance use disorder (SUD). According to Substance Abuse: Official Publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse, individuals in rehabilitation programs who used expressive writing "showed greater reductions in post-traumatic symptom severity, depression, and anxiety." Journaling is an excellent tool for recovery because it gives you a safe space to explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

How is Reflective Writing Used in Therapy?

Most journaling is a form of reflective writing. Your therapist may ask you to write about a memory, thought, or situation and then describe what it meant to you. Sometimes tools like worksheets or therapeutic exercises are used to increase the effectiveness of the journaling. For example, you may have worksheets that require you to write about your past, how you feel about treatment, or aspects of your day-to-day life. Homework involving worksheets or specific writing tasks is very common and can help you learn how to recognize and process emotions in a more healthy way.

According to Practice innovations (Washington, D.C.), "research has shown that mental health professionals who have ... reflective worksheets in addition to a standard cognitive-behavioral therapy ... report greater use of skills and awareness compared with those who do not use reflective worksheets." Journaling can help you track specific behavioral or thought patterns. Not every therapist will require you to journal using a standard notepad or text app. Some alternatives to traditional journaling include:

  • Video journals

  • Creative or art journals

  • Social media journals

  • Meditation journals

  • Gratitude journals

  • Dream journals

  • Planning journals

Usually, the form that it takes will depend on the circumstances of your situation and what medium makes you feel most comfortable.

The Benefits of Healthy Self-Expression

Writing in a journal allows you to look at your fears, doubts, or concerns from a new perspective. In addition to the mental health benefits, writing as a form of self-expression can also help manage and decrease symptoms caused by injury, illness, or chronic disabilities. The 2018 New York Times article, "What's All This About Journaling?", reported that "scientific studies have shown [journaling] to be essentially a panacea for modern life." Research indicates that it provides the following advantages for individuals with chronic conditions:

  • Decreased pain related to chronic injury or illness

  • Lower stress levels

  • More balanced moods

  • Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety

  • Improved mindfulness, cognition, memory, and communication

  • More restful sleep

  • Stronger immune system responses

  • Increased I.Q. in some cases

JMIR Publications published information on a clinical study that stated 39.4% of participants "reported that the journaling activity made them feel 'somewhat better' and 18.2% reported that it made them feel ‘much better.’" The specific health benefits vary from person to person and can depend on multiple factors, including your support system and whether you have co-occurring mental health disorders.

Technology and Modern Journaling

Some people want to put pen to paper when writing journal entries, but others prefer digital options like apps or computer writing software. The great thing about technology is that it makes tasks like journal writing faster and straightforward. You can find dozens of note and journaling apps designed to prompt you into regularly writing down your thoughts. Smart devices, laptops, or computers are a convenient way to keep yourself motivated to continue journaling over a long period. Some come with daily reminders and track changes in mood, while others are basic text apps where you can quickly note down your thoughts.

5 Popular Journaling Exercises

Writing can be beneficial for tracking, analyzing, or recording behaviors and thoughts. Below are five popular journaling exercises that you can use during recovery to help you manage symptoms and practice mindfulness.

#1. Keep track of your moods. Write down details about your mood changes throughout the week to find unhealthy behavioral or thought patterns that may contribute. You can use this information to make changes and stabilize your moods.

#2. Journal about everyday life. Keep a journal detailing significant events, thoughts, and activities you experienced throughout the day. Many people find it calming to look at their day from a new perspective.

#3. Keep a gratitude journal. Make daily or weekly entries to note down all the successes and positive things you experience during recovery. You can use them as a way to stay motivated and track progress.

#4. Journal about what you learn in therapy. Write down how you feel about the various things you talk about in therapy and reactions to different coping techniques. You can increase your self-awareness and self-confidence by keeping track of what works and how it has changed your life for the better.

#5. Write about your triggers and reactions. Symptom management is easier when you use journaling to track possible triggers by describing what you were thinking, feelings, or doing right before and after the symptoms appear. You can work with your therapist to find healthy ways to cope with the triggers.

Journaling has been a part of mental health therapy for the last century and has only increased in popularity over time. Many research studies have shown mental and physical health benefits of writing range from better sleep to a more positive outlook on life. Journaling is a highly personal activity and can come in many forms. Some people prefer video or audio journaling, while others enjoy writing things down physically in a notebook. You can use whatever method makes you feel most comfortable. At California Care Detox and Treatment, you are encouraged to explore various forms of self-expression, including journaling and other therapeutic tools. During treatment and ongoing recovery, you can use reflective writing to look at situations from an outside perspective. Research indicates that journaling can decrease stress and lessen the effects of co-occurring conditions. To learn more about our facility or treatment programs, call us today at (949) 281-0632.

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