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.”
A 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.