The Not So Secret Benefits of Keeping a Secret Journal

Niamh Murphy, Staff Writer

When you were in elementary school you probably had a small diary with a lock and key; which you probably lost, but that is beside the point.  If you had any rattling secrets as a child, you wrote them in this book and locked it away for no one else to read.  The lock made it feel like a secret and since no one else was reading it, you may think, what is the point of writing it down?  Although the simple practice of journaling could have had a number of positive effects on your mental health.  Most drop the use of a diary before the age of 10, so if you were one of those people, it is time to pick it back up and see the efficacious changes it will bring!  

Stress journaling is an effective, creative outlet for those who are afraid to open up to others about their struggles.  It can be used as an alternative to therapy and can still help manage stress.  When individuals suppress what they feel, it lingers inside and festers.  People do not want to feel vulnerable or may feel that no one around them can help.  Talking to a stranger, like a therapist, may be even more difficult, or maybe the reason they need to talk to someone may not be crystal clear.  Instead of simply thinking about it, writing it down helps journalists express their emotions in a healthy manner.  It can help people organize what they feel inside, and it can give meaning to trauma or even just to some negative feelings.  

Dr. James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, studied the effects of journaling for many years, and his theories have become very well-known.  In the article, “Writing About Emotions May Ease Stress and Trauma,” published by Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School), when talking about Pennebaker’s theory, it says, “…the process of writing may enable them to learn to better regulate their emotions. It’s also possible that writing about something fosters an intellectual process — the act of constructing a story about a traumatic event — that helps someone break free of the endless mental cycling more typical of brooding or rumination.”  The regulation and consistency is key here, the more you do it, the more meaningful things written, the more positive results you will see.

There has even been evidence that shows the academic benefits of this as well.  According to the Article, “Journaling to reduce COVID-19 Stress,” by Lisa Tams from the Michigan State University Extension, there was a  study done on ninth grade students relating to this practice.  Two groups were assigned and one group was told to journal about their feelings and stress about a test they would soon take.  The second group was given a prompt about what they thought would be on the test, each student took ten minutes to write their entries. 

In the text, it says, “The study found that those who expressively wrote about their feelings in their journal outperformed the control group who wrote only about test content.  This turned out to be especially true for the students who identified themselves to be anxious or suffering from test anxiety.”  Not only does this help people feel better, it helps them perform better on daily tasks.  The mind is clearer and people are more self-aware of the issues they face, which leaves them room to cope. 

For Girl Scouts, each member was instructed to find a project they were interested in and could also help the community by working on.  When instructed to do this, the project selected was to share lessons and resources, through a website, to promote the use of stress journals in teens.  The lessons have been created, but they are yet to be shared publicly or added to the created website.  Although the lesson videos have been shared with a few friends and BF students, who are now willing to share their experiences with the program and this type of journaling in general.  

When asked about her experience with stress journaling, eighth grade, Franklin student, Isabella Fonseca said, “The outward effects are not automatic, but you can feel the inward ones almost right away, after you put down the pencil.”  She explained how it brings a sense of calmness and relaxation.  Another Franklin Eight student, Aileen Wolfson, explained how the lessons worked.  “Having a structure to follow is very helpful, although it is good that it was not telling you exactly what to do, because then it would stop people from thinking for themselves.”  Which is exactly what the goal was, because sometimes humans just need motivation or a little push to help them see the results they need.

Now, even after hearing the benefits and from others, you may be thinking that you do not even have a need for it because you do not have any trauma or majorly stressful things in your life. But the amount of change occurring in everyone’s lives, especially because of the Coronavirus, has given everyone something to be nervous about.  Back in elementary school, you may have thought life was simpler.  Students may have worried about tests, friends, or even sports, but everything then was on a much smaller scale.  For elementary schoolers, the workload is much easier to manage, and friendships and sports are not taken as seriously.  But as students rise in grade level, all of that changes.  Levels of anxiety and stress change and go up as well, due to the intensity of those three things rising, but also more issues pile on. 

People begin to stress out about what their futures will look like, their social status, and what is going on in their families, now that they are mature enough to be in the know.  All of these issues cause stress, and now with Covid, and the worry for the safety of yourself and others, plus, the anxiousness you may feel for when things go back to normal, there are even more reasons for a bit of panic.  Since these issues are extremely common, teenagers may think they are not such a big deal, and they may deal with it in silence, which is where awareness and journaling comes in.  Pick up a pen or pencil or even grab your chromebook and open a document.  Just write or type whatever you are thinking, do not worry about punctuation or typos, and see the benefits for yourself.  And soon you will be able to go over to the stress journaling website for tips and resources!