Friday, September 15, 2006

TO WRITE: Recovering from emotional trauma
Published authors and my own students report a variety of helpful effects from writing about their mental health and other life situations. But did you know that there is also scientific evidence that writing can help your health?

For example, after writing for 20 minutes a day, four days in a row, about a life trauma, people tend to go to the doctor much less often than usual -- they feel healthier and, after a brief period of sadness, they usually feel happier and report having more insight. When patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis do this four-day exercise, they experience decreased symptoms, and the effects can be seen even four months later. This kind of "expressive writing" can lower blood pressure and heart rate, and can even lead to cellular changes that boost the immune system. And, while it hasn't been studied on depressed people per se, it has led to "decreased depressive symptoms" among a more general population. These results are amazing!

Now investigated around the world, expressive writing has been studied in cancer patients, Holocaust survivors, AIDS patients and more. Professor James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin has led this field of research, and you can find a link to his website at the right of this column. It includes loads of information -- and several fun self-tests.

Play with this...
Try the four-day experiment yourself. Write continuously about a traumatic event, particularly one you've kept secret. You can write about the same one each day, or vary the topics. Make a note of how you feel before and after each 20 minute writing session, and see what results you find. Then let me know!


Connie said...

On days when I write at least a half an hour, I find that I'm more upbeat and motivated to tackle other, less interesting projects.

PMM said...

You make me want to write. I haven't actually started doing it yet but I am getting motivated. Thanks.