If you’re the type of person who turns to writing more often than most people, you understand how relieving, clarifying and enriching it can be. If you write regularly for personal objectives, you may find yourself getting anxious in the middle of the day, because you’re still at work and can’t wait to get home so you can keep writing! Ideas may float throughout your head on a constant basis, and it might be difficult just to keep track of them all. You love to write and enjoy it on a deep level simply for the act itself. What you may not have been aware of, though, is that there are serious medical benefits to writing.
New Zealand researchers conducted a biopsy-related study in 2013 on 49 healthy seniors, aged 64 to 97. The researchers had the control group write as factually as possible about daily activities or the condition of a room. The experimental group was instructed to write about a traumatic, upsetting personal experience from the past. Both groups wrote for three days in a row, 20 minutes each. Then, in order to allow any negative feelings that arose from recalling upsetting events to subside, the scientists waited two weeks to perform the biopsy.
The biopsy was then performed and the healing was tracked over 21 days through photography. 76 percent of the experimental group had already fully healed by day 11, as compared to only 42 percent of the control group by the same time.
Burning questions are sure to arise, and the biggest one is: how did reflective writing help this much in such a short period of time?
They experienced lower levels of stress through emotionally expressive writing
Co-author of the New Zealand study, Elizabeth Broadbent, concluded that writing about a deeply upsetting experience enabled the experimental participants to make greater sense of their feelings, which in turn reduced the stress surrounding these events.
They see their health levels go up, regardless of their background or medical condition
The health benefits of writing are (fortunately) not restricted to this 2013 New Zealand study. Dr. James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, has been working for nearly two decades with expressive writing as his focal point of study. Dr. Pennebaker was the first to popularize this methodology and bring it to bigger stages of implementation. The craziest part is Dr. Pennebaker and those he’s worked with have found almost no limits to the conditions expressive writing can help.
They see fewer problems with disease, and ailments often fade away sooner
Patients with arthritis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, asthma and cystic fibrosis have all experienced noticeable, long-term improvements through writing for 15-20 minutes a day, no longer than three to five days at a time.
They are able to organize their thoughts better and let go of the past more easily
Dr. Pennebaker has been asked numerous times about his own thoughts on why this approach works so well, and so consistently. In an interview at his school of tenure in 2005, Dr. Pennebaker commented that “emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives…writing helps us focus and organize the experience.”
Some of this information can seem too good to be true. Does writing out your deepest emotional thoughts about a personal matter really have the power to change the body’s response to disease or inability? As wondrous and even “magical” as it may sound, the facts are present, and this type of mental-emotional therapy has been improving lives since 1999.
Recommendations based on Dr. James Pennebaker’s methodology:
- Write about something deeply personal and of critical emotional importance
- Write for 20 minutes without stopping
- Repeat this over a period of three to five days
Through the power of reflective writing, you are likely to find yourself feeling less stressed, more at ease with your past and even more physically well. Writing is not only an enjoyable activity – it can change your very state of wellbeing!