Transformative Writing: Exploring Andrew Huberman's Science-Backed Journaling Method for Emotional Growth


Andrew Huberman recently covered a science-backed journaling method for processing stressful events. This is not your typical journaling technique. The actual process is far from enjoyable, though if you’re able to endure the emotional challenges, the benefits can be worth it. This journaling method helps process and reframe difficult experiences, leading to positive brain and nervous system changes.

The benefits include:

  • Reduced anxiety and improved sleep.
  • Stronger immunity and fewer autoimmune symptoms.
  • Enhanced memory, decision-making, and other cognitive functions.

The Method:

  • Write about a negative experience that was highly stressful for you and potentially traumatic.
  • Four writing experiences about the same topic within four weeks, ranging from 15-30 minutes.
  • Pen and paper or digital. It does not matter.
  • Write continuously, without worrying about grammar or accuracy.
  • Give yourself time to calm down after writing (5-15 minutes).
  • After completing all four journal entries, review them and see how your writing has evolved from entry 1-4.

When traumatic events are not properly processed in the mind, they can have profound effects on both mental and physical health. This relationship is thoroughly explored in Bessel van der Kolk's 'The Body Keeps the Score.' The book delves into how unresolved trauma can indirectly influence our bodies through prolonged chronic stress, potentially contributing to or exacerbating a range of physical ailments, including migraines, cardiovascular problems, and gastrointestinal issues. It also discusses how symptoms of certain autoimmune disorders may be influenced by trauma. This journaling procedure has the potential to help people properly process trauma, therefore it can be used as a tool to increase their overall quality of life, which is truly amazing.

After hearing about this science-backed journaling technique, I had to try it myself as an experiment to see the process and benefits first-hand. I chose to follow the protocol exactly by doing four entries within four weeks, all based on the same traumatic topic.

At first, I debated what topic I should choose. Dr. Paul Conti defines trauma as any experience that causes emotional or physical pain, surpassing our coping mechanisms, overwhelming our nervous system (both body and mind), and leaving a lasting mark on us as we move forward. I knew that for this protocol to be effective, I had to be decisive about the journaling topic and stick with it over the four weeks. I had a list of 3 topics ranked from most stressful to least and decided to pick one that was right in the middle.

My initial entry was tough to write. Usually, I enjoy the process of writing, but this journaling technique is not an experience where you enjoy the process, though you can definitely enjoy the results. It's similar to how many people don’t look forward to intense exercise but are grateful afterward for the endorphins it provides. It involves some delayed gratification and patience to stick with the process over the four-week period.

Once I started, it was like opening a faucet. I could feel the emotion pouring out, and my body showed signs of stress like perspiration, and my heartbeat sped up. The first experience was the most dramatic for me. My entries and overall reaction became calmer from entry to entry. Each night, I went to bed knowing that my brain would be re-processing my traumatic experience. I slept as normal as far as I’m aware of and went about my routine, except for a brief period after writing when I took time to reset my mind and get it back to a state of peace. To reset, I used meditation, breathing techniques, and went for a walk outside. If you plan to engage in this journaling method, then you need to set aside additional time for recovery that does not include the 15-30 minute writing period.

After completing the protocol, I waited a week and reviewed my journal entries in sequence from 1st to last. I was surprised by how the tone of these entries evolved as I began to see this traumatic event in a new light. I could see from each entry how my brain adapted my perception of this event through the power of neuroplasticity and was truly amazed by this. I stored all my entries in my Shadow Note journal under the topic "Stress".

Neuroplasticity works both ways. It’s the concept that allows us to change when exposed to new environmental conditions but can also make our brain and behavior more rigid if our environment is the same. Without deliberately harnessing the power of neuroplasticity, we become fixed characters sleep-walking through life. This is why some people’s behavior can become quite predictable. Their behavior is driven by the same neural pathways that only become stronger with time. It is our responsibility to steer neuroplasticity in a direction that serves us through intentional actions that alter our environment for our best.

I’m excited to repeat this protocol again in the near future so that I can begin to process more of these events and become a better version of myself. I welcome anyone keen to learn more about this protocol to watch the full Andrew Huberman podcast and explore the resources below. I wish you the best as you embark on this journey for a better life.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma:
Confronting a traumatic event: toward an understanding of inhibition and disease:
Natural emotion vocabularies as windows on distress and well-being:
Disclosure of traumas and immune function: Health implications for psychotherapy:
Putting Feelings Into Words:
Increasing honesty in humans with noninvasive brain stimulation:
The β1-adrenergic receptor links sympathetic nerves to T cell exhaustion:
Writing About Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process:
Brain and body are more intertwined than we knew:
Therapeutic Journaling:

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