…beginning to write signals that we have chosen hope over despair. Conversely, when we’re in despair, if we write we become more hopeful.

~ Louise DeSalvo, Writing As A Way of Healing

Amidst all the urgent claims on our time and energy, why write for ourselves rather than binge-watching a favorite TV show, finishing that final load of laundry or completing the report that’s due in two days?

Expressive writing, and five other forms of writing – transactional, affirmative, poetic, legacy and mindful writing – offer things these other activities usually don’t.

Writing connects you more deeply to yourself. It strengthens resilience and it enhances health and well-being.

Writing costs very little and doesn’t have to take a lot of time. You can benefit from writing for 2-20 minutes at time, as regularly as you wish to (Pennebaker & Evans, 2014; Pennebaker & Smyth 2016).

Writing Helps you Listen to Yourself

Discovering what we’re thinking and feeling, through writing, helps us negotiate and tolerate a new psychic space.

~ Louise DeSalvo, Writing As A Way of Healing

You know how it helps to talk with someone who is listening to you compassionately, carefully and without judgment? You can find yourself saying things you may not have expressed before. You can let go of the effort it takes to hold back difficult thoughts or feelings. It’s a tremendous gift to be listened to in this way.

But sometimes, there’s no one who can tolerate listening for long to the strong feelings we need to express. We may not wish to burden those closest to us, or we may feel there’s no one we can trust to confide in. We may want to commune deeply with ourselves, rather than be in conversation with another.

With writing, there’s no need to be concerned about the feelings or the trustworthiness of a listener. When you write, expressing your deepest thoughts and feelings openly and honestly, you can give yourself the gift of caring, attentive listening.

Writing Strengthens Resilience

…as we write we become observers– an important component of developing resilience. We regard our lives with a certain detachment and distance when we view it as a subject to describe and interpret. We reframe the problems in our life as challenges as we ask ourselves how to articulate what is on our mind in a way that will make sense.

~ Louise DeSalvo, Writing As A Way of Healing

Resilience is the capacity to move forward positively, even in the face of difficult, life-altering or traumatic events.

Though the behaviors and skills that are related to greater resilience may come more naturally to some people than to others, they can be learned and strengthened through practice (Dolce, nd).

Writing strengthens our resilience by allowing:

  • Safe exposure to difficult emotions, which makes them less powerful and more manageable
  • Cognitive restructuring, giving us new, less upsetting ways to think about, understand and make meaning of traumatic or painful events
  • Increased self-regulation, which allows us to cope with and better regulate emotions (Sexton et al, 2009).

Writing Improves Health and Well-Being

Writing gives us back the voices we seem to lose when the body becomes ill or disabled. We want to speak for ourselves and our particular experience of illness or disability rather than have someone else speak for us. Writing helps us assert our individuality, our authority, our own particular style.

~Louise DeSalvo, Writing As A Way of Healing

It’s pretty amazing that writing can improve our physical health. But when you think about it, maybe not so surprising. After all, our mind is creation of our brain, and our brain is part of our body. What affects our minds also affects our bodies, and vice versa.

Writing works to improve physical health in a number of ways. It affects underlying health-related biological processes, improves emotional and social well-being, and leads to positive changes in health-related behaviors. Expressive writing has been shown to positively impact symptoms and quality of life for those with of a range of diseases – asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, HIV/AIDS (Pennebaker & Evans, 2014; Pennebaker & Smyth, 2016)

Initial studies with those who have depressive symptoms, major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder show improvement in mental health symptoms after expressive writing.

Writing throughout my cancer wasn’t curative. Treating the disease that was the job of the health care professionals who treated me. But it contributed to healing in many ways.

At a time when I had to turn my body over to the health care professionals who saved my life, writing allowed me to maintain a sense of agency. It helped me maintain the motivation to exercise and otherwise actively take care of myself. It enabled me to accept, make sense of, and find meaning in the experience of a threatening illness. It empowered me to handle the changes in my body, my sense of self, and my shifting perspective on life and on mortality that come with the experience of serious illness.

These — listening to yourself, strengthening resilience, and improving health and well-being — are just three great reasons to write. There are many more! See the references below if you’d like to learn more about the many benefits of writing to heal.

I’m excited to announce a new offering for 2019, a 6-week Transform Your Health: Write to Heal workshop that will guide you in experiencing these and other benefits of personal writing for your own health, development and well-being. Take this opportunity to register  at a special, introductory rate!

References

DeSalvo, L. (1999). Writing as a way of healing. How telling our stories transforms our lives. Boston: Beacon Press.

Pennebaker, J. W. & Evans, J.F. (2014). Expressive writing: Words that heal. Eunumclaw,WA: Idyll Arbor.

Pennebaker, J.W. & Smyth, J.M. (2016). Opening up by writing it down. How expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain. New York: The Guilford Press.

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