Writing for Health


Why do I write more when I am sad, then when I am happy? Why are my journals filled with heartache, self-pity, distress, rants and raves? Is it because writing is a sacred place where one can fill pages and pages of hurt and release? Thus, Is writing part of the process of self-reflection and growth?

Ever since my grade 6 teacher gave us a journal project, I have kept a diary. At first, I started filling the pages with escapades with my best friend Laurie. You can read about The Hardy Boys and how much I loved Shawn Cassidy. I also wrote about our sleepovers, birthdays, dates with friends… I raved about movies I’ve seen, like the time we went to the now extinct Lowes theater in Montreal to see a screening of Saturday Night Fever! Plenty of fun stuff to talk about.

As the years went on, and teenage hormones raged, pages started looking like the inside of a typical 14 year old’s. “Mrs. Michael LeRoyer” scribbled a million times. “Ugh I’m fat” and “Oh why me?” Life started getting complicated, and my writing reflected this. Less “events” appeared in my journal and more “heartfelt feelings of dread and self-hate emerged. I don’t know if it all went downhill, or did the writing help me get through the most important years of my life?

The question is, does writing improve your physical and mental health?

“In a study on expressive writing (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986), college students wrote for 15 minutes on 4 consecutive days about ‘the most traumatic or upsetting experiences’ of their entire lives, while controls wrote about superficial topics (such as their room or their shoes).”

The authors concluded that:

‘writing about earlier traumatic experience was associated with both short-term increases in physiological arousal and long-term decreases in health problems’ (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986: p. 280).”

In another similar study:

“In clinical populations, a meta-analysis (Frisina et al, 2004) of nine expressive writing studies also found a significant benefit for health, although when analysed separately the effects for physical health outcomes in medically ill populations were significant, but those for psychological health outcomes in psychiatric populations were not.”

healthoutcomes.writingA longer-term follow-up, many studies have continued to find evidence of health benefits in terms of objectively assessed outcomes, self-reported physical health outcomes and self-reported emotional health outcomes.

Personally, I feel, if I had not taken the time to express myself, anger, sadness, trauma, and at times, gratitude, love, and about my grand breakthroughs, all those emotions would be stuck inside of me, never having a safe place to be, and in turn, I feel my health would have suffered more than it suffered over the years due to self-loathing and pent up emotions. If not expressed, where would all those negative thoughts go?

I asked this question in a group:

Do you think our mental affects our physical or visa versa? If writing in this study, found a positive effect on physical health, could it be that really, writing affected the spirit state, soul state and mental/emotional state, which in turn then improved the physical?

Most of the answers I received were centered around the chicken and the egg question. I tend to agree. Sickness can lead to depression, however, depression can lead to sickness.  Yet, I am a strong believer our negative states of being wheter is is unforgiveness or pent up anger, can do much damage to our body.  Writing, for me, allows me to free up stuff and leave room for the positive in my life. Writing a letter to a friend expressing my anger towards her, yet never sending it, or expressing grief after the death of a loved one, writing a poem after a breakup etc.. etc. I feel this has allowed me to remain authentic in my life. Jotting all those words of hate or sadness on paper, before having an actual conversation sifts out the negative in order for me to have a real healthy face to face conversation.  It helps me confront the situtation.  Also, writing about our “stuff” leaves the negative behind, never allowing it to fester inside, thus,  creating headaches, back aches and stomach aches.

35 years of jounaling has probably saved my life. Even though there were times, and still are, that I do not write in my diary, as long as there are computers, notebooks or paper… pens, markers, glue and paint, there will be a place for me to express myself in all safety.

And even though I may write more when I am sad and angry, that is okay, it is even more than okay, for me it is mandatory. In my gratitude journal, there will always be a place for the things I am thankful for, so if my children fall upon my muses, they will know, that even though mom writes about muck and guck sometimes, she was, in face, truly happy.

Does writing affect your moods? Do you keep a journal? If so what kind?

Tell me about it in the comments below.

Source:  Advances In Psychiatric Treatment
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  1. What a wonderful inquiry! Writing absolutely affects my emotional and physical well-being for the good. When I’m feeling “foggy” I can count on writing to clear it. I struggle with journals… I love the idea, but then I either need to write when my journal’s not near or it’s not the right shape or there are too many lines or not enough… in recent years I’ve reverted to just writing wherever it was easy and throwing it away. I bought a large sketch book at the New Year and am finding that my favorite yoga prop right now, though, so maybe I have a new journal. Time will tell. Thanks so much for this post!

    • Kim

      January 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      Thank you Christine for your comment. I actually was thinking of starting an Art Journal, or just a collage journal. Anything goes in my opinion right?

      I too write on odd pieces of paper, and I have thrown some out. Just release the guck and voila!! 🙂

  2. I totally write for my life Kim. I’ve kept journals sporadically, but at times of my life when I’ve been exploring my deep, dark places, writing was my solace and my sanity.

    I’ve also written to the heart of many ideas and fears – challenges and confusions. Just writing ever deeper until I found the gem at the center of the issue.

    I recently have started writing nearly every night before I sleep. I record a combination of daily events and feelings. As I age it feels like this is how I can remember my life…

    Great article!

    • Kim

      January 15, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you!! I think writing at night could be good for me. Recording “the good stuff” really leaves us with a sense of gratitude.

  3. I offer my two rules of journal writing: 1) Tell the whole story if you are going to start it. Life teaches us lessons; they often begin with sadness but end in joy. Why leave out the best part? (Psst! Someone, long after you are gone, may read your sad tale; wouldn’t you want to also share your joyful outcome?) and 2) If that simply can’t be done, because it truly is just a moment of needed venting, then that’s when I employ “Init Caps”. For example, I wouldn’t write “I want to tear my hair out right now!”; instead, I would write IWTTMHORN. Sometimes funny things appear, like “HORN” and make me smile. (Evidently, I just needed to blast!) See! Journaling can be such a delight. I’ve been at it for decades! Join in on the fun adventure!

    • Kim

      January 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

      My kids know about my writing, and it is not all bad!! I love your DIGHOSUD !! LOL it sounds like a great way to vent.

  4. I find writing therapeutic, even when I’m writing violent or aggressive scenes (in a novel). I find it can be a great release. However, if I’m too stressed I find creative writing difficult.
    BTW, I loved David Cassidy and remember queuing for ages to see ‘Grease’! 🙂

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