In the chaos that lives in your mind when you're depressed, you might feel like you're drowning. But maybe a journal can keep you afloat and lead you back to safety.
Depression is not a matter to be taken lightly. It's a mental health issue that affects nearly 16.1 million American adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And it can be difficult to overcome without the right guidance. But psychologists have a way to help and it has to do with keeping a journal.
Being able to express yourself in words, if not to others, can help release any burdens you've been carrying for far too long. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, writing down all your thoughts can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your mental health. Additionally, there is a scientific connection between writing and the reduction of the symptoms of depression.
In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders on the link between the two, it was found that the more people diagnosed with depression - specifically Major Depressive Disorder - expressively wrote, they showed lesser scores on the depression scale. Essentially, the results showed that "expressive writing may be a useful supplement to existing interventions for depression."
In a study published in the British Medical Bulletin, depression can affect these areas of the brain: hippocampus, thalamus, amygdala, frontal and prefrontal cortices. This can cause various reactions especially when it comes to your emotional control and responses to stimulus. And these certain parts of your brain, such as your hippocampus, can actually shrink due to depression.
According to WebMD, here are some of the ways journaling can help relieve the effects of depression:
1. It makes you more aware of your feelings and emotions
When you express yourself in a journal with honesty, hidden thoughts and feelings can be brought to the surface. "Many people are surprised by what they write," says Denver psychotherapist Cynthia McKay. You may even discover the source of your depression, something that you didn't know was affecting you until it was written down.
2. It gives you more control over your surroundings
When you're depressed, you might feel like there is chaos not only in your head but rather like you don't have control over anything around you either. But writing a journal can make you feel like you have some control and help relieve those feelings. "When we write things down, they feel more manageable," says clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, Ph.D. In a way, it can empower you to do something better for yourself so that you feel happier. And it can give you the power to recognize when you feel worse and need some external help.
3. It allows you to think more positively
"I like to use gratitude journals and affirmation journals with my clients," says Charlynn Ruan, a licensed clinical therapist, according to WebMD. Here, there is an opportunity to really find what makes you happy and what you like about yourself, thus relieving one of the symptoms of depression which is associated with pessimistic viewpoints, according to Medical News Today.
4. It helps you notice patterns
When you constantly write down how you feel, you might even start to see the things that are contributing to your depression. As a result, once you decide to make a change, you know where to go when it comes to making yourself feel better and more in control of your life. It's avoiding these stress triggers that can truly help you move on in a better direction. And if you look back at older entries and notice that your feelings are getting worse, then it could be a step forward in accepting help from a professional therapist.
The actual physical act of writing can help you concentrate on your task. It distracts your brain from worries and allows you to just take the time to really express yourself. Additionally, letting out all the thoughts you have on paper can reduce your stress and in turn, decrease the negative effects it has on your brain and body.
You deserve to be happy and journaling may be one of the ways to help you achieve that. If you still find yourself struggling with depression despite the journals, making an appointment with a professional can help you start the healing process and give you the tools you need to be truly at peace and happy. Don't give up on yourself.
Of course, with depression, it is important to talk with healthcare professionals on a regular basis and prescribed medications may help as well.