Why Writing Is Good For Your Health
Writing A Day Keeps The Doctor Away
I’m not even sure if that makes sense, but it’s the first thing that comes to my mind.
Write every day and you’d be surprised the health benefits that comes with it.
So you’re passionate about your writing. Sometimes you get stressed while other times you’re on a high. I have a friend that used to tell me that she never got sick as long as she wrote every day. I rolled my eyes. That was before I begin seeing all the evidence that points to writing being good for your health. Here is some information I dug up on this, including how you should be writing in order to get the extra health benefits!
Writing Helps You Heal Faster
This is the most surprising thing I found. Researchers from New Zealand found that expressive writing helped older patients heal faster.
“We think writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress,” says Elizabeth Broadbent, professor of medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and co-author of the study, published in July in Psychosomatic Medicine.
Being upset over long periods of time can increase your levels of stress hormones. Other studies have found that writing actually decreases your cortisol, or stress level hormones!
When I dug further, I found that there are researchers that are heavily involved in the health benefits of expressive writing. Dr. James Pennebaker is one of them. He’s a professor at the University of Texas in Austin.
“When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health,” Pennebaker says. “They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it’s been a very beneficial experience for them.”
Now does this mean you should write every day about this? Not necessarily. For this case, we’re talking about emotional stresses that come out of nowhere. These are not daily events. Dr. Pennebaker describes how to handle this.
“I’m not convinced that having people write every day is a good idea,” Pennebaker says. “I’m not even convinced that people should write about a horrible event for more than a couple of weeks. You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity. “But standing back every now and then and evaluating where you are in life is really important.”
The key here it to understand the power you have as a writer in dealing with the stresses that come into your life. By using expressive writing, you can begin to focus on these stresses and deal with them. Also remember not to write about a specific stressor for too long! Keep a balance between dealing with an issue and holding on to it to the point that all your focus seems to dwell on the stress, rather than moving forward.
Want to know the exact steps to expressive writing? I found these instructions from PsychCentral. It’s taken out of Dr. Pennebaker’s book Writing To Heal:
Set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day for three or four consecutive days each week. (That’s less than a total of an hour a week that you are devoting to your own good health.) You don’t have to do it every day. You can decide which days of the week work best for you. Take the other days off guilt-free.
Do your best to create a time and space that is free of distractions. Turn off your cell phone notifications. Think about getting up a little before the rest of the family or staying up a bit later so you have the quiet you need to think.
Write about an emotional issue that has affected you deeply. You can write about the same event every day or you can choose something different every time you sit down to write. That’s up to you. Go beyond stating the facts. Explore your feelings and reflect on how that event altered the course of your life. Think and write about ways that event can be seen as having helped you grow. Researchers think that it is the combination of emotional expression and cognitive reflection that makes this type of journaling more helpful than simply keeping a diary.
Push yourself to write for the entire block of time. Even if you stop to think for a good portion of the time during this exercise, focusing your attention on your emotional life and working to make new sense of it (or affirming the growth that came from it already) for the entire time period will have a positive effect on your life.
No one will see this journal except you so don’t worry about grammar or spelling. It’s fine to use bullets and lists for part of it if that is easier for you. But do work on finding ways to express your deepest feelings and your thoughts about them.
Once a month, take some time to read over your entries. Write for 15 minutes about what you are learning about yourself and what you are doing or would like to do to support your own growth and change.
Have you seen any health benefits from your writing? Let us know! Leave a comment below.