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Improve Your Health by Writing

October 11, 2017

By John F. Evans, MAT, MA, EdD

How are wellness and writing connected?

Wellness and writing are connected in ways we are only beginning to understand and utilize. Healthcare professions literature suggests that for many people, wellness and writing can be closely connected; and that writing is useful for obtaining and sustaining emotional, physical, and spiritual health. In fact, since the early 1980s, a growing body of research about the physical effects of writing shows that the heart rate lowers and people are more equipped to fight off infections when they release their worries in writing. In addition to coping better with stressful situations, this research shows that writing can have a positive impact on self-esteem and result in work that can help people overcome their own obstacles.

Much of the research about writing and healing was pioneered by James Pennebaker, Ph.D., and is now sustained by others who work in the disciplines of writing, psychology, medicine, counseling, nursing, coaching, hospice, and education.

The biological underpinnings of writing for health are currently found in sophisticated and overlapping scientific areas such as: applied psychoneuorimmunology[i], psychobiology[ii], applied psychophysiology[iii] and recent findings in epigenetics[iv].  However daunting these terms may be, gratefully, no one needs to be an expert in these fields, and no one needs to be a professional writer to benefit from writing.  Moreover, the writing does not even have to be grammatical or follow any particular form; it only needs to be expressive.  Writing-to-heal is even for people who don’t like to write.

Benefits of Writing for Health

Research about expressive writing, the kind of writing that is deeply personal and is written for one’s own eyes only, demonstrates that writing:

  • Boosts thinking ability
  • Increases working memory
  • Reduces pain, tension, and fatigue
  • Enhances mood and sleep quality
  • Positively influences immune system function

Other studies suggest that significant mental and physical health benefits occurred in cancer patients who wrote their deepest feelings and thoughts for thirty minutes daily for five days.  Writing about “your best possible self” resulted in a significant boost in mood along with a drop in illness when compared to those who wrote about neutral topics.

Writing as a Form of Self-Care

Writing is one tool in a toolbox of self-care, and it may be a useful tool for you, but it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all prescription.  Writing for wellness may take many forms.  Therapeutic value is found in literary genres such as: memoirs, essays, fiction, poetry, and drama.  Whether or not they are published, does not impact the positive affect they can have on the writer.  Other forms of writing for wellness are unsent letters, lists, logs, journals, and exercises designed for specific health or behavioral concerns.   A very popular form of writing for wellness is writing in a personal journal.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Write whenever you want – daily or weekly or only when you have strong emotions to express about something that happened or something someone said or did.
  • Write in any way you want without regard to punctuation or spelling or any convention.
  • Write about yourself using the third person, “he or she” to see a change in perspective about a stressful situation.

Writing for wellness only has one rule: the three-day rule.  If you find yourself covering the same ground over and over with the same emotion for three days straight, it may be time to move on.  Either write about the topic in an entirely different way or leave the topic alone for a while.

Are you interested in learning more about writing for your health?

The early registration deadline for Duke Integrative Medicine’s Transform Your Health: Write to Heal is October 16. Transform Your Health:  Write to Heal is a transformative six-week workshop that helps you access your inner healing voice. The workshop is designed to also help you discover ways to manage stressful events and upheavals in your life through writing. Click here to learn more about the upcoming workshop.

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