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Writing to heal

Writing is not just something people can do to make a career for themselves; science has proven that writing can also be used to help people become healthier. Studies have shown that expressive writing, putting down your thoughts and feelings can have profound effects on you psychologically and physically. Even if you just write it down and then throw it away!

It appears as if traumatic events in our lives, if not processed in some way, go on to cause us harm. Events such as serious illness, violence, divorce, keeping a damaging secret, and even changing home can increase our stress hormones, in particular cortisone, leading to us developing other unwanted symptoms such as an inhibited immune system, poor sleep patterns, and an increased chance of illness and depression. Taking time to write about what you are feeling in regard to these traumas in your life can help the mind to deal with them once and for all and improve your overall health.

A study published in Scientific American in October 2013 looked at the effect of expressive writing in the healing of wounds in older people. Forty-nine participants between the ages of 64-97 years were asked to write for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days about an upsetting event in their life or to write about their daily activities. The control group did not write. Two weeks after the writing, all the study participants had a biopsy on their arm. By the 11th day, 76% of the participants that wrote before the biopsy were healed, as compared to 42% in the control group of non-writers.  In another study looking at the social effects of expressive writing, a group of recently retrenched engineers participated in a study. The study group wrote about their feelings regarding losing their jobs, the control group did not write anything. After eight months, less than 19% of the non-writers had found new jobs, while 52% of the writers had found employment.

Even blogging has proven to be beneficial to your health. In an article in the May 2008 Scientific American, the expressive writing many people do on their blogs serves the same purpose in garnering health benefits. Blogging has proven so effective that some cancer units in hospitals now have blogs set up for their patients. Studies have shown that cancer patients who write about their experiences before treatment feel better mentally and physically afterward than those who do not. The added benefit

of blogging is that often the person builds up a supportive group of readers.

The simple act of writing about what is happening to you is enough, you don’t have to let anyone read it, you can even throw it in the bin as soon as you are finished. James W. Pennebaker from the Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin has been studying the health benefits of expressive writing for more than 20 years. He started his work when he discovered that people keeping dark hidden secrets had more illness than other people. The simple act of writing the secret down and expressing how that secret made them feel was enough to begin to see benefits.

Benefits from expressive writing include: improvement in mood, decrease in depressive symptoms, decrease in asthma attacks, increase in T-cells in AIDS patients, improvement in lung and liver functions, improved sleep, improvement in students’ grades, less work absenteeism, reduced blood pressure, improved sports performance, and improved memory, among others.

Pennebaker doesn’t believe keeping a diary or journal is always the best way to achieve these benefits, though. This can lead to people writing continuously about the trauma leading them to being stuck in that spot. He has found for traumatic events it is better to write about it 15-20 minutes for four consecutive days- that’s it. He also warns that the writing should not be forced on a person; they should want to do it.

No one knows for sure why expressive writing helps our body so much. It could be these traumatic events or deep secrets take up a lot of time in our mind. The mind cannot deal with them effectively, either to suppress them or sort them in some way, causing constant underlying stress on our bodies. By writing them down, the process of writing about it, you are organising the thoughts in a way that the brain can now deal with and the matter can stop affecting you.  So, writing is not only for professional writers, it may be the best medicine for all of us.

Its all I write



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