9 reasons why writing in a journal should be your only resolution in the new year.

If you've got a list of resolutions, this one thing will cover them ALL.

Once upon a time in Texas, some computer engineers got fired.

After four months of unemployment, not a single one of them had found a new job. Something a little surprising gave them hope ... and better results in their job hunt.

A diary.


In a study led by University of Texas researcher James W. Pennebaker, a group of the jobless professionals got in touch with their feelings and wrote about it, diary style. 20 minutes. Writing. Emotions. Repeat. Daily.

It's what Pennebaker wanted to test. Could this emotional writing practice reduce stress and help solve the problems these engineers were having?

"Listen, Frank. We're going to write about our feelings in a diary. Just accept it." Image by SDASM Archives/Flickr.

In the group that got all up in their feelings and put them down on paper, more than 26% found a new job.

"So if i don't address my feelings in an emotional journal, I'm less likely to find my next job? Whoa." More on this below. Image by Nasjonalbiblioteket/Flickr.

The other engineers wrote about non-emotional stuff like time management, or they wrote nothing at all. Less than 5% of those in this group found a job.

And as it turns out, emotionally expressive writing is useful for so much more than finding a job.

It can improve your health, your happiness, your goals, your love life ... everything! And for those of you thinking, "Whatever diaries are dumb," try thinking of journaling or freewriting as PRODUCTIVE MEDITATION.

And we're off ...

Writing in a journal should be your ONLY New Year's resolution this year. And I'll prove it to you.

Name a resolution, and we'll keep it using — you guessed it — a writing practice! Let's get started.

1. If your resolution is to be healthier:

All images by Lori White.

Journaling can help you with your immunity.

Ever heard of T lymphocytes? Me neither, until I learned that regular journaling can strengthen these important immune cells. More research, chronicled at PsychCentral, also shows that journaling can reduce symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

2. If your resolution is to be happier:

Emotional writing can heal mental and emotional wounds ... after about two weeks.

I know I've been cheerleading for emotional journaling, but know this: the first two weeks will be rough. In one study, during the beginning of emotional writing, subjects got more depressed, and some of their blood pressures even increased!

Writing about trauma is uncomfortable in the short run, but after a brief period of time, the costs can disappear and the benefits emerge ― and they last.

As one participant admitted, "Although I have not talked with anyone about what I wrote, I was finally able to deal with it, work through the pain instead of trying to block it out. Now it doesn't hurt to think about it."

3. If your resolution is to lose weight:

Journaling helps process emotions, which are an often ignored obstacle to weight loss and healthy habits!

OK, first, you're perfect the way you are. And second, long-term studies found no relationship between only weight loss and health improvements. Weight loss doesn't contribute to a healthier you, but healthy habits do! So maybe think about a resolution to form some healthier habits.

The emotional aspect of weight loss is overlooked, and journaling is proven to help with emotional processing.

From Dr. Diary, aka James W. Pennebaker:

"When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health. ... They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it’s been a very beneficial experience for them."

4. If your resolution is to be less stressed:

Pennebaker believes that writing about stress can help you come to terms with it.

Stress has physical symptoms too. So if you journal about stress and therefore reduce stress, you'll also reduce physical symptoms of stress. Easy!

5. If your resolution is to heal that cut on your finger from when you were slicing the holiday ham:

Journaling might just help heal physical wounds too.

Yes, really. In a study in New Zealand, 72% of a group who'd done expressive writing after a biopsy were fully healed, versus 42% of a group who'd done no writing. Researchers think the writing may have led to better sleep and reduced stress, and therefore ... heal-ier wounds!

Cool, huh?

6. If your resolution is to get a new job:

Journaling can help you find a job faster, but not necessarily get more interviews.

It's a quality-quantity thing.

An interesting tidbit on this from the study of the laid off engineer story at the very beginning of this article:

"Interestingly, expressive writing didn't land the engineers any more interviews. It just increased the odds that they were hired when they did have an interview. "

And if you think the whole thing about the expressive journal-ers getting jobs is a little too good to be true, it's worth noting that the scientists who first did this study have been able to replicate it many more times.

7. If your resolution is to write more:

Journaling daily not only can help heal the emotional blocks of insecurity, perfectionism, and other fun demons ... it can train you to just write, censor-free, and to just generally make things.

Emotional journaling, aka the concept of morning pages, is a basic tenet of a book titled "The Artist's Way" — which has sold millions of copies. Plus, it's a book I like and I create things for a living!

8. If your resolution is to be a more creative soul:

Journaling can get your right brain involved.

Problem solving gets relegated to your analytical left brain most of the time, but sometimes analyzing a problem ain't gonna cut it. That's when it's great to get your RIGHT brain involved. And one of the quickest ways to do that is through writing!

There's even a theory, based on MRI imaging, that activating your brain and then resting it leads to more a-ha moments.

9. If your resolution is to be better at your job:

Plain ol' emotional writing will make you miss less work and get better grades, but writing about how your work is making a difference might make you better at that job!

A study of fundraising found that when people working in stressful fundraising jobs journaled about how their job was making a difference for just a few days, it increased their hourly effort by 29% over the following two weeks.

Excuse me I have some deadlines coming up, so I'm gonna take 20 minutes now to write about how this article is making a difference ... hold on a sec.

So .. how?

Start journaling when you feel ready. Set a time. Stick to it.

20 minutes. Three pages. Whatever.

Get in your feelings.

Pennebaker's research has shown that writing about traumatic events only improves health when people describe facts and feelings.

Throw in some gratitude and maybe a line or two about achieving future goals and dreams and the difference you're making in life. Don't be too strict.

Trust yourself! You know what's making you feel better!

You'll be in good company. George Washington, Virginia Woolf, Pablo Picasso, Richard Branson, and Mark Twain are just some of the members of the diary club.

Don't worry about the writing being "good." Writing is like dancing! We can all dance in our own way ... and no one gets to tell you you're dancing "wrong" because they're not you.

It might sound pretty out there to be all "I'm writing in my diary now!" — but there's nothing flighty or youthfully naive about decades of scientific research that show that something as simple (AND FREE!) as writing for 20 minutes a day can change your life.

Try it in 2016.

Resolutions are annoying: They make you feel bad, and they're often just plain annoying to try to meet. I'm sharing this so that we can all be done with those obnoxious, shaming, icky-feeling New Year's resolutions.

All we need to do to get started on a better year — according to research! — is put a pen to paper. It's free. It's easy. And you deserve ALL that it can bring you in 2016.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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