By Lyn Alderson
You’re a professional journalist – or aspiring to be one. You’ve probably been writing since childhood, or at least since sixth form.
If you’re anything like me, you loved expressive writing at school – the chance to put your thoughts, feelings and opinions down, to create an intriguing story or let off steam.
But did you know that writing is extremely good for your health? The healing power of expressive writing has been validated by two decades of psychological research, and is worth thinking about as a personal therapy. It’s particularly good for stress relief, and improving the symptoms of chronic health conditions.
Writing a private journal doesn’t cost anything, and scientists have observed these benefits while studying people who write regularly:
- Enhanced immune function (Pennebaker, 1997, Petrie et al, 2004)
- Improvements for a range of chronic health conditions, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, AIDS, cancer and lupus (Smyth and Arigo, 2009; Smyth, Stone and Hurewitz et al, 1999: Petrie et al, 2004; Halpert, Rybin and Doros 2010; Henry et al, 2010; Low et al, 2010; Rosenberg et al, 2002; Danoff-Burg et al, 2006)
- Improved mood and fewer symptoms of depression) (Spera et al, 1994; Pennebaker and Francis, 1996; Lepore, 1997)
- Increased emotional well-being (Park and Blumberg, 2002)
- Better academic performance (Pennebaker, Colder and Sharp, 1990; Cameron and Nicholls, 1998; Lumley and Provenzano 2003)
- Better working memory (ability to carry out complex tasks) (Klein and Boals, 2001)
- Improved social relationships (Pennebaker and Graybeal, 2001; Baddeley and Pennebaker 2011)
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder victims had fewer flashbacks and nightmares (Klein and Boals, 2001; Sloan and Marx, 2004)
- Suicidal students had improved moods (Kovac and Range, 2002)
- People visited the GP and/ or hospital less (King and Miner, 2000; Norman et al, 2004)
- Sporting performance improved (Scott at al, 2003)
- Women with body image disorders improved their perceptions of themselves (Earnhardt et al, 2002)
- Liver patients had better blood test results for liver enzyme levels (Francis and Pennebaker, 1992)
- High blood pressure patients had lower readings (Davidson et al, 2002)
That’s quite a list!
It appears that humans are hardwired for storytelling, and creating a narrative is cathartic.
One of the leading players in the experimental work on writing, James Pennebaker, said: “As the number of studies increased, it became clear that writing was far more powerful than anyone ever dreamed”.
It’s pretty clear that if writing was a drug, with big money to be made from its promotion, it would have been hailed as a medical breakthrough ten years ago!
As well as the medical benefits, expressive writing helps us to be more productive. It helps us process the “emotional baggage” we all suffer with to one degree or another. This unresolved emotion can block our creativity and dull our minds. But as we write about our problems, we are able to process these fragmented and disturbing memories. We can file them away for good, and regain a clearer mental focus.
Scientists have found that working memory- our capacity to carry out complicated mental tasks- improves significantly as a result of expressive writing.
So if you are stressed out or affected in your daily life by chronic illness, remember that writing- not someone else’s story, but YOUR story- is a free therapy and might make you feel a whole lot better.
Lyn Alderson has written a short guide to expressive writing as a therapy, entitled The Write Therapy: How Keeping a Journal Can Make You Happier, Healthier and More Productive. Amazon Kindle Store, priced £2.05 (free of charge if you’re a member of Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited).
Lyn is a freelance journalist. She worked as a news reporter and features writer in the West Midlands for 25 years, and now works from her farmhouse home. She writes a humorous blog about life as a town-bred farmer’s wife. She built this website during one of our 2-day Build Your Own Website workshops!