24 Oct How writing can reduce your stress
Ask anyone who writes regularly in a private journal why they do it and they usually say, ‘because it makes me feel better.’ I started writing a diary aged nine. When I was growing up I did it every night. These days it’s more haphazard, but when I’m struggling with a personal or professional issue, I make time to sit and write.
For years I’ve been fascinated why writing helps. Now scientific research shows that writing regularly improves mental and physical wellbeing, increases the body’s immune system, reduces the number of visits to the doctor and lessens the impact of trauma.
Phew! Imagine if we all wrote — we’d be a healthier and a happier society.
James Pennebaker from the University of Texas in Austin is a pioneer in this field. He’s conducted several studies with people ranging from college students to prisoners, crime victims to chronic pain sufferers. He says that the physical act of writing ‘allows disturbing experiences to subside gradually from conscious thought’.
Pennebaker has also found that:
- Writing for 15 minutes over the course of three days improves mental and physical health.
- Those who benefit most use more positive emotional words than negative words.
- By writing about an emotional experience, people integrate the experience better.
- Expressive writing helps in romantic relationships.
And here are a few more reasons of my own:
- Storytelling is an innate human ‘gene’. As we make sense of our world through narrative, we also make sense of our own lives.
- By writing, we externalise feelings on to the page. When you do that, you literally write out your pain or grief. In time, you are able to distance yourself from the event.
- Journaling is a way to be your own therapist. All you need is pen and paper. You may like to invest in a beautiful handmade diary or you might prefer a simple bound notebook. What’s important is that you give yourself permission to write as often as you need to and carve out the time to do it.