You may have already heard that keeping a bulimia recovery journal can be an especially helpful strategy when it comes to learning to process negative thoughts and feelings in a healthy way – but what you may be surprised to learn is that there are literally HUNDREDS of research studies out there that have found regular journalling to significantly improve both physical health AND emotional well-being.
Many researchers seem to now be in agreement that regular journalling helps to reduce anxiety, improve mood, reduce stress and increase our overall levels of life satisfaction, while some studies even go on to show that keeping a journal can significantly boost your immune system, reduce your blood pressure, and improve your memory! (Baikie and Wilhelm, 2005)
Why is journalling so helpful for eating disorder recovery?
Keeping a recovery journal really can have a very positive impact on your recovery. Here are just some of the ways it may change your life:
1. You’ll be less stressed
Journalling has been scientifically proven to relieve stress..and I’m sure you’ll agree that’s brilliant news when it comes to recovery!
Stress wreaks havoc with your appetite, your ability to process difficult emotions, your willingness to embrace change, your sleep patterns, your energy levels, your ability to focus on tasks, I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.
The bottom line is this –
When you’re under too much stress recovery is going to seem impossible.
Of course striving to live a life that is 100% stress-free would be totally unrealistic, but by engaging in activities like journalling, that have been proven to lower stress levels, you’ll find you have a much greater capacity to deal with the daily challenges of recovery.
Dr. James W. Pennebaker, often referred to as the ‘pioneer of journal therapy’ researched the positive effects of writing for decades, and consistently found journal writing effective at lowering stress levels.
Two meta-analysis studies which pooled data from more than 20 individual journalling studies support the theory that journalling can reduce stress and improve overall physical and mental health. Findings suggest that although journal writing may cause some initial upset and distress, the lasting positive effects produced are similar to the positive effects produced by other psychological therapies and interventions. (Smyth, 1998) (Frisina, et al. 2004)
2. You’ll experience less emotion-driven relapses
Journalling is a safe and healthy way to ‘mentally purge’ and can be a great go-to strategy for dealing with overwhelming emotions.
Whether you’re using journalling as a distraction, a way to facilitate the acceptance of negative thoughts, a pause button, or all of the above, turning to a pen and paper (or your online journal) can be a really effective way to avoid a relapse that is being driven by intense emotions – or as we call them at Bulimia Help ‘mind-binge’ urges.
“In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.” – Dr. Matthew D. Lieberman, Professor of Psychology at UCLA.
3. You’ll recover faster!
Regular journalling can speed up recovery as it helps you to discover subtle triggers in your life that may have been holding you back.
Constantly relapsing on the third week of every month? Struggling with more binge urges after spending time with a certain friend? Experiencing intense sugar cravings after a sleepless night? What about the way your negative self-talk manifests without explanation?
The thing I came to discover during recovery is that those triggers, events, relapses and ‘bad days’ always tend to happen for a reason and sure you may uncover those reasons eventually, but by keeping a recovery journal you’ll drastically speed up the process. Over time you’ll be able to identify more trigger patterns, even the really subtle ones, which means you’ll be in a great position to create strategies for dealing with those specific triggers in the future.
4. You’ll learn to become accountable for your actions
Journalling is a gateway to honesty. The more honest you are with yourself the more accountable you’ll become.
The word ‘accountability’ is thrown around a lot in recovery – but with good reason. I believe it is one of the most essential skills that we need to develop in order to truly heal. We have to learn to care about ourselves, to become pro-active in our recoveries and to acknowledge that change must always come from within.
In recovery it could be argued that we need to be more honest with ourselves than we’ve been in our entire lives – but I’m sure most of you will agree that opening up is far from easy.
That’s where your journal will help. It will provide a safe space for you to begin being more honest with yourself about your thoughts and feelings in recovery. It will help you to stop burying your head in the sand, or allowing yourself to make choices that deep down you know are harming your recovery.
5. You’ll become your own source of motivation
Over time, using your journal to track your recovery process allows you to become your own source of inspiration and motivation…and that will change EVERYTHING.
We all need to have someone there supporting us through recovery, telling us that we’re strong, that we are capable of facing the challenges ahead, that we WILL recover as long as we never give up. But it’s a different thing entirely having that motivation and those positive messages coming from within.
Well through regular journalling you’ll really start to see the incredible progress that you’re making in recovery. You’ll have a record of all the times you did the things you never dreamed would be possible, and this will serve as a constant reminder of just how capable you are. Reading back over your journal will show you that you’ve overcome ‘impossible’ times in the past, and that serves as incredible motivation for facing future challenges.
As an added bonus, reading back over your achievements is a sure fire way to encourage feelings of self-love and self-worth.
Don’t have time to keep a journal?
As a recovery coach one of the main issues I find people have with the idea of keeping a recovery journal is the worry that it will be too time consuming, and believe me I get it.
I may have been recovered for five years now, but I remember all too well how exhausting recovery is. It demands all of our time, focus, and energy, and that’s before we’ve even started to deal with our other daily responsibilities and life stresses.
Right now if you’re feeling that same kind of recovery exhaustion you probably want to write off the idea of journalling all together, BUT, if you’re willing to give it a chance you may find yourself quickly become less stressed and more productive – meaning in a way, you’ll have more free time than ever before.
In their research, Psychologists Dr. Kitty Klein and Dr. Adriel Boals discovered that a persons ability to concentrate and focus can increase significantly when they take the time to express themselves through journal writing. (Klein and Boals, 2001)
Tips for starting your very own recovery journal…
Let your mind guide you: There is no clear consensus regarding the best techniques for journalling but using something called ‘stream of consciousness journalling’ is a great place to start. Simply sit down for an allotted amount of time [15 minutes if you can] and write whatever comes to mind.
Write quickly: This helps you to avoid censoring your writing meaning you’ll be more likely to let your true emotions and feelings flow. Let the words burst out of you and don’t stop to correct spellings or grammar.
Calm your anxieties: Journalling is an extremely personal and private experience. If you’re worried about privacy use a secure password protected online journal.
Give it time: As journalling research pointed out, sometimes people feel a temporary increase in anxiety or upset when they first start to write in this way, so give yourself time to adjust before deciding whether journalling is a good recovery strategy for you.
Journalling as a strategy for recovery – is it right for everyone?
It’s normal to feel uneasy about journal writing at first because it’s something that’s likely to push you outside of your comfort zone. The thing to realize is that you’re never going to feel truly comfortably trying something for the first time, but if recovery taught me anything it’s that true progress is only ever made outside of our comfort zones.
That said, if you consistently feel that writing in your journal is just too stressful or upsetting then it’s probably not the best strategy for you at this time.
We are all amazingly unique individuals which means that sometimes a strategy that works wonders for one person, may have the opposite effect on another – and that’s okay.
Either way you should be immensely proud of yourself for trying because cultivating a ‘willing to try anything’ mindset when it comes to recovery strategies means that nothing is going to stop you from securing that happy, healthy, bulimia-free future you’ve been working so hard for.
In health and love,
Catherine Liberty, Recovery Coach