Can writing heal?

My therapist always encouraged me to write. She gave me a journal—a few actually, which I always lost somehow. I liked the idea of keeping a journal but I didn’t know how to make it fun. “I had eggs for breakfast. I sat down to journal at 10 a.m., et cetera…et cetera” I liked the idea of tracking my life but I just didn’t enjoy it and I never went far with it.

August 7, 2018 I felt the need to write about an event in my life. It was a huge turning point and I wanted to write it—document it—share it with anyone that may be struggling. I wanted to share a story about a huge mistake I had made and how it changed my life. I am so grateful for that series of events because today my life is amazing.

I felt so good after publishing my story that I decided to start a blog. The more I write the more I notice the therapeutic benefits. I have been thinking a lot lately about why writing is so therapeutic. Why does it lift a weight off of my chest? There are many different types of writing that suit different people and they can all be used therapeutically. I like to write lists, blurbs, outlines for my stories, and self-help blogs. I also like technical writing and reporting. My husband, on the other hand, loves creative writing. I am terrible at creative writing but I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s made my blogs much more interesting by helping me add some creativity and purvey a strong image that the reader won’t forget.

“Most of us do not think in complete sentences but in self-interrupted, looping, impressionistic cacophony,” said Elizabeth Sullivan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Francisco. Writing helps us track our spinning thoughts and feelings, which can lead to key insights (e.g., I don’t want to go to that partyI think I’m falling for this personI’m no longer passionate about my jobI realize how I can solve that problemI’m really scared about that situation.) Writing is “speaking to another consciousness — ‘the reader’ or another part of the self. We come to know who we really are in the present moment,”

Julia Cameron says: “We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance as well… We should write because writing is good for the soul… We should write, above all, because we are writers whether we call ourselves writers or not.” —Julia Cameron: The Right to Write

Writing also creates a connection between your most inner-self, your thoughts, your brain and the outside world. These thoughts come through your body and are released by your hands and they become a permanent fixture, unlike speaking freely. You can look directly at them and dissect them visually and mentally. You can see your thoughts! It’s wonderful. There are so many different types of writing out there, I really would recommend everyone give writing a chance. Try to find ‘your style’ and see what happens. I personally use my laptop for most of my writing, but I do occasionally revert to a pen and a paper. Many people find a certain sense of peace, or subtle satisfaction when they write with pen/pencil and paper.

When I say writing is therapeutic, that is a pretty a generalized statement. So, what are the effects of writing? Are there studies to back any of these theories? Here is some information on the health benefits associated with writing.

The following is all copied from a website, follow the link to learn more:

Now, new research suggests expressive writing may also offer physical benefits to people battling terminal or life-threatening diseases. Studies by those in the forefront of this research–psychologists James Pennebaker, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin, and Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University–suggest that writing about emotions and stress can boost immune functioning in patients with such illnesses as HIV/AIDS, asthma and arthritis.

A groundbreaking study of writing’s physical effects appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 281, No. 14) three years ago. In the study, led by Smyth, 107 asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients wrote for 20 minutes on each of three consecutive days–71 of them about the most stressful event of their lives and the rest about the emotionally neutral subject of their daily plans.

Four months after the writing exercise, 70 patients in the stressful-writing group showed improvement on objective, clinical evaluations compared with 37 of the control patients. In addition, those who wrote about stress improved more, and deteriorated less, than controls for both diseases. “So writing helped patients get better, and also kept them from getting worse,” says Smyth.

In a more recent study, presented in a conference paper and submitted for publication, Pennebaker, Keith Petrie, PhD, and others at the University of Auckland in New Zealand found a similar pattern among HIV/AIDS patients. The researchers asked 37 patients in four 30-minute sessions to write about negative life experiences or about their daily schedules. Afterward, patients who wrote about life experiences measured higher on CD4 lymphocyte counts–a gauge of immune functioning–than did controls, though the boost to CD4 lymphocytes had disappeared three months later.”

Maybe you are skeptical and don’t believe all of these benefits to be true. The only thing I know is that once I’m done writing I feel better. I feel refreshed—centered— I feel more…together. If you give writing a chance and don’t like it, don’t give up. There are a lot of other activities out there that have been known to relieve stress. I would never suggest you replace physical activity with writing, physical activity is known as a great stress reliever and source of therapy. Exercise is essential to a healthy life. Find something that makes you feel good and allows you to engage mentally when you’re down. Find something that isn’t difficult to focus on. It’s important to fully engage in whichever therapeutic activity you choose.

I hope you find something that works for you {if you havn’t already}! For those of you that have already found what works for you, drop a comment and let me know what you like to do to alleviate stress.


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