When you think of hulking actors that ooze strength and power, you’ll probably think of Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman. While he may be the epitome of masculinity for some, the Les Misérables actor recently spoke with Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones about how glad he is that the notion of masculinity is changing. In fact, the shifting ideas of masculinity, as well as how men are supposed to process their emotions, led him on a journey to where he’s even begun journaling to better understand his feelings.
Hugh Jackman: Journaling Helps Me Process Feelings
According to the 53-year-old actor, he was encouraged to suppress his emotions as a child, so much so that while he experienced fear quite a lot, he realized that he wasn’t allowed to. However, he now sees that men are being encouraged to be empathetic and to understand, as well as be open, about their feelings. With that said, one tool that the Prisoners actor has been using to process his emotions is a journaling practice recommended by his therapist,
“I, in the last year, started a journal that starts with two words: ‘I feel.’ It was a bit of homework, and I sort of went, Journaling, ugh. And now every morning I do it, obsessively, because I realized how stunted I was…I would write ‘confused’ a lot, and my therapist said, ‘Confused: That’s a red flag.
Confused just means there’s more than one thing you’re feeling. Just list what the things are.’ I realized how stunted I was around that.”
Chances are that you probably kept a journal as a child, whether it was in class or at home. While you may have outgrown it, you may be surprised to learn that going back to the habit can help you navigate your mental health and emotions, just as well as it has helped the X-Men actor.
What Are The Mental Health Benefits of Journaling?
1. Manages symptoms of anxiety and depression
For those battling with symptoms of anxiety and depression, putting pen to paper may be an effective tool when it comes to dealing with those symptoms. A common symptom of depression and anxiety are negative thoughts. As journaling helps one to process their thoughts, it becomes easier to manage them, as opposed to letting them run rampant in your mind.
In fact, in a 2018 study, 70 adults with various medical conditions and high anxiety levels reportedly experienced less depressive symptoms and anxiety a month after partaking in positive affect journaling.
2. Offers stress relief
Sometimes stress can be good for the body, but there are times when it can be incredibly toxic and in those instances, it might be a good idea to write out your feelings. A study published in The Permanente Journal found that journaling exercises helped alleviate stress in patients, families, and healthcare practitioners from a children’s hospital.
By allowing us to process our emotions and pinpoint what exactly is making us feel so stressed out, journaling ensures that we don’t let the stress get to us, and thus, impact our health.
3. Helps us process trauma
Suppressing your thoughts and emotions related to a traumatic experience isn’t going to do you any favors. In fact, this suppression will just compromise your health, and that’s the last thing that you need.
Jotting things down can help you process the trauma by giving you the opportunity to confront what happened, instead of avoiding it.
What other benefits does it have?
Journaling isn’t just great for your mental health. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that it can benefit your health and longevity in other ways.
1. Improves memory
According to neurologist Judy Willis, journaling can enhance cognitive health, which includes boosting long-term memory. As you write down past incidences, you are reciting them to memory and reflecting on what has transpired. This act then allows you to retain the memories for a longer period of time.
2. Boosts immunity
This definitely sounds bizarre, but research has found that writing out your feelings can improve your immune system. One study recruited medical students who had received the hepatitis B vaccine and two booster shots. They were divided into two groups and were tasked with either journaling about past traumas or about their daily plans. According to the findings, those who journaled about their trauma ended up having higher antibodies before the dose and two months later.
Now, while more recent research is undoubtedly needed, that doesn’t mean that journaling does not have an effect on your immune system. As we know, high-stress levels can have a detrimental effect on immune function. Journaling has been found to help improve stress levels, so it’s not too much of a leap to believe that by lowering stress levels, journaling also works to strengthen immune function.
3. Cultivates gratitude
It’s important to be grateful, especially after you’ve survived a global pandemic. By channeling your thoughts, journaling helps to remind you what you’ve overcome, and this can be great for your overall health. In fact, Harvard Health reports that practicing gratitude not only makes you happier but it’s also been found to improve life satisfaction.
How can I start?
Pick up a pen.
It’s really that simple. It’s important not to treat journaling as homework, so perhaps try pairing the activity with another that you enjoy. You can incorporate it into your morning or evening routine. However, if you are going to do it at night, make sure that you don’t do it before bed. The last thing you want is to be struggling for sleep because you’ve dredged up emotions you may not be ready to deal with yet.
Want to know more
Hugh Jackman is excited about the changing ideals about what constitutes masculinity, stating “I think it’s changing so much for the better, and I think it’s a fantastic thing.” In fact, he’s not the only one that’s been open about his feelings in recent months. F1 Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has also opened up about his own mental health struggles.
MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: HUGH JACKMAN/INSTAGRAM
Petrie, K. J., Booth, R. J., Pennebaker, J. W., Davison, K. P., & Thomas, M. G. (1995). Disclosure of trauma and immune response to a hepatitis B vaccination program. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 63(5), 787–792. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-006x.63.5.787
Smyth, J. M., Johnson, J. A., Auer, B. J., Lehman, E., Talamo, G., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2018). Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR mental health, 5(4), e11290. https://doi.org/10.2196/11290