Therapeutic Effects of Storytelling in Journaling
Storytelling, or the art of narrating events you experienced into a story, is an expressive writing technique used in journaling. It is also a psychotherapeutic way to filter thoughts and emotions of grief, depression, anxiety, and heartbreak (Dibdin and Casablanca). If you have gone through or are going through loss or a traumatic event, storytelling will help you release the weight of sadness, stress, and spirals from cluttering your mind. This article will focus on the biological role storytelling plays in developing self-awareness and self-confidence for your well-being.
Channeling your emotions through any form of expressive writing helps to lower symptoms of depression. As per studies conducted by psychologist James W. Pennebaker, narrating about traumatic events is effective in reducing intense emotions associated with depression by:
- allowing you to reflect on your feelings and thoughts;
- helping you have a better understanding of yourself and your experiences; and
- giving you the ability to organize and remember events as they occurred—because without it, intense emotions continue to persist (Pennebaker and Seagal, 1243).
To understand why storytelling is uniquely helpful in countering depressive symptoms, it’s crucial to know where the natural ability to write cohesive stories comes from. According to Science Daily, a new brain imaging study from the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis, shows that the hippocampus is the brain’s storyteller: it connects separate, distant events into one narrative stream of consciousness (“Hippocampus is the Brain’s Storyteller”). Your memory and perception of life is dependent on the way your hippocampus recognizes patterns and forms connections, and thus you have control of your narrative. As you develop your story, you are engaging your hippocampus in a process known as narrative therapy to sort out your thoughts, discover your self-identity, and find your meaning and purpose in life (Ackerman).
Narrative therapy in storytelling helps you find your voice through a technique called externalization. Externalization is the ability to address a personal problem objectively and observe oneself at a distance (Clarke). Writing about your emotions as memories of specific events enables you to externalize by seeing them in a third person perspective. It gives you the opportunity to focus on human behavior and your own memories without identifying someone, or yourself, as “the problem” in the story. Practicing externalization means the elimination of judgment as you write your story, and it will help you focus on behavioral patterns and optimize your self-confidence to transform your behavior.
As the author of your story, you can reverse events by reframing the narrative of true stories that have had an impact on your emotions. Psychologist Don Adams studied people who have shared the whole story arc of their lives. He found that people who lead meaningful lives tell stories defined by redemption, growth, and love because they learn lessons from their traumatic experiences and convert negative outcomes to positive outcomes (Smith). The Love Story’s goal is to help you start this process and provide you with the space and time to fuse the craft of journaling with your personal journey. Our program is designed to help you document your true experiences through expressive writing into a fiction, based on a true story genre to continue building your character. Our goal is to shift your story arc so that you may transform grief and heartbreak into purpose, meaning, and hope.
Storytelling heals your mind and soul by signaling responses from your body. When you tell your story, you are healing your mind from depression by releasing healing hormones, such as oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide, and endorphins (Rankin).
By helping counter the adverse chemical effects of depression, self-expression and self-reflection through storytelling can yield additional vital physical health benefits. For instance: cardiologist Milena A. Gebska M.D., Ph.D. states that there is a correlation between heart disease and depression, including an increase in depression due to heart disease (“Understanding the Link Between Depression and Heart Disease”). According to Psychology Today, new research from the University of Arizona finds that 20 minutes of narrative expressive writing over a three-day period triggers a physiological chain reaction that improves heart rate variability (HRV), promoting cardiovascular health (Bergland).
Storytelling can be the start of your journey towards wellness, self-awareness, and self-confidence. The benefits you reap from narrative expressive writing will transform your mind to a place of resiliency and enlightenment.
Begin Journaling Here.
Ackerman, Courtney E. “19 Best Narrative Techniques & Worksheets [+PDF]” Types of Therapy. 23 May 2022.
Bergland, Christopher. “Narrative Expressive Journaling Could Help Your Vagus Nerve” 21 May 2017.
Clarke, Jodi. “What is Narrative Therapy?” Psychotherapy. 14 Jul 2021.
Dibdin, Emma and Sandra Silva Casablanca. “How to Use Art to Help You Cope With Grief” PsychCentral. 06 Jun 2022. https://psychcentral.com/health/grief-art-therapy
Pennebaker, J W, and J D Seagal. “Forming a story: the health benefits of narrative.” Journal of clinical psychology vol. 55,10 (1999): 1243-54. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4679(199910)55:10<1243::AID-JCLP6>3.0.CO;2-N
Rankin, Lisa “The Healing Power of Telling Your Story” Psychology Today. 12 Nov 2022. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/owning-pink/201211/the-healing-power-telling-your-story
Smith, Emily Esfahani. “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” New America Resilience.
Accessed 08 Jun 2022
“Hippocampus is the Brain’s Storyteller” Science Daily. 29 Sept 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210929112809.htm#:~:text=Summary%3A,part%20of%20an%20overarching%20narrative
“Understanding the Link Between Depression and Heart Disease” University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.
https://uihc.org/health-topics/understanding-link-between-depression-and-heart-disease. Accessed 08 Jun 2022
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