A couple of years ago I participated in a Writing for Wellness workshop, facilitated by Michelle Pearce of the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine. I was trying out expressive writing, an approach that, as I learned, could benefit my immune system, improve my health, decrease stress, increase emotional well-being and improve relationships, cognitive function and work performance. Wow! All that from writing.
Expressive writing is a great thing for those of us who are over-giving, service-centered professionals who have so little time, and yet who want to take care of ourselves. It turns out you can get benefits from spending just a short time writing over just a few days. Read on to find out more.
Expressive writing has been demonstrated by over 30 years of research to be effective in helping people integrate the difficult experiences that just about everyone encounters in the course of a lifetime.
Who benefits from expressive writing?
- Pretty much anyone can benefit from expressive writing, though there’s evidence that men benefit even more than women do. Possibly this is because men may be less likely to have ever discussed their difficult emotional experiences with others. Or, do you think there is some other reason this might be so?
- Education and writing ability don’t matter.
- People of every culture, class and language can benefit from it.
Writing is private, convenient and helps you integrate difficult experiences and make meaning from them.
- No one else reads it.
- You won’t be judged.
- You can be completely honest.
- You can write by hand or on a computer.
- You can openly acknowledge your feelings.
- You can tell a coherent story.
- You can switch perspectives.
- You can find your voice.
- It doesn’t take a lot of time. Writing for at least 20 minutes per day for 3-4 days has consistently shown helpful results. You can write for 3-4 days in a row, or once a week for 3-4 weeks. Shorter writing sessions, as brief as 5 minutes, have also shown benefits.
This April I attended a professional training workshop at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine on Leading Others in Writing for Health. It was lead by John Evans, Ph.D.,and Karen Jooste. M.D. We learned about expressive writing as well as about 4 other forms of writing that promote well-being – transactional writing, poetic writing and story telling, affirmative writing and legacy writing.
I’m really excited about organizing in-person and online workshops on expressive writing and these other writing forms. I’ll be starting out with some free webinars, so watch for the announcements. In the meantime, try:
Stream of consciousness writing: Just write for 10 minutes, or until you’ve filled two pages, tracking the thoughts and feelings that come up. Write about what you feel, hear, see, smell or notice. This writing is just for you, so no worries about spelling, grammar, punctuation, or format.
Topical stream of consciousness writing: I love this for when I want to or need to write about something but just can’t get started. It’s like stream of consciousness, plus a specific topic. Here’s an example of a prompt:
- I’m sitting here trying to write about _______________. Why am I having trouble writing about this?
And, see this post for a mindful writing exercise.
 Learn more about this here http://www.acestudy.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/ARV1N1.127150541.pdf or here http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/abn/95/3/274/
 Pennebaker, J. W. & Evans, J.F. (2014). Expressive writing: words that heal. Enumclaw, WA: Idyll Arbor