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Can I Write Myself Well?

Writing to Heal

Writing about stressful situations is one of the easiest ways for people to take control of their problems and release negative effects of stress from their bodies and their lives. James Pennebaker, Ph.D.(i)

Wellness and writing are connected in ways we are only beginning to understand and use. The literature of several healthcare professions suggests that for many people wellness and writing can be closely connected, and that writing is useful for obtaining and sustaining emotional, physical, and spiritual health. In fact since the early 1980s, a growing body of research about the physical affects of writing shows that the heart rate lowers and people are more equipped to fight off infections when they release their worries in writing. In addition to coping better with stressful situations, this research shows that writing can have a positive impact on self-esteem and result in work that can help people overcome their own obstacles.

Much of the research about writing and healing was pioneered by James Pennebaker, Ph.D., and is now sustained by others who work in the disciplines of writing, psychology, medicine, counseling, nursing, coaching, hospice and education. The biological underpinnings of writing for health are currently found in such highly sophisticated and overlapping scientific areas such as: applied psychoneuorimmunology(ii),psychobiology (iii), applied psychophysiology (iv) and recent findings in epigenetics(v). However daunting these terms may be, gratefully,no one needs to be an expert in these fields, and no one needs to be a professional writer to benefit from writing. Moreover the writing does not even have to be grammatical or follow any particular form; it only needs to be expressive.

Writing-to-heal is even for people who don’t like to write. Research about expressive writing, the kind of writing that is deeply personal and is written for one’s own eyes only, demonstrates that writing:

* Boosts thinking ability

* Increases working memory

* Reduces pain, tension, and fatigue

* Enhances mood and sleep quality

* Positively influences immune system function

Other studies suggest that significant mental and physical health benefits occurred in cancer patients who wrote their deepest feelings and thoughts for thirty minutes daily for five days. Writing about “your best possible self” resulted in a significant boost in mood along with a drop in illness when compared to those who wrote about neutral topics.

Writing is one tool in a toolbox of self-care, and it may be a useful tool for you, but it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all prescription. Writing for wellness may take many forms. Therapeutic value is found in literary genres such as memoirs, essays, fiction, poetry, drama. Whether they are published or not does not negate the positive affect they can have on the writer. Other forms of writing for wellness are unsent letters, lists, logs, journals, and exercises designed to specific health or behavioral concerns.

A very popular form of writing for wellness is writing in a personal journal. Here are a few suggestions:

* Write whenever you want - daily or weekly or only when you have strong emotions to express about something that happened or something someone said or did.

* Write in any way you want without regard to punctuation or spelling or any convention.

* Write about yourself and your activities in the third person to see a change in perspective.

Writing for wellness only has one rule: The three day rule. Watch out for writing yourself into a rut. If you find yourself covering the same ground over and over with the same emotion, it may be time to move on. Either write about the topic in an entirely different way or leave the topic alone for a while.

i James Pennebaker, Ph.D. ., Professor and Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

ii Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body.

iii Psychobiology is the application of the principles of biology (in particular neurobiology), to the study of physiological, genetic, and developmental mechanisms of behavior in human and non-human animals.

iv Applied psychophysiology is the application of interventions such as mindfulness or biofeedback to change the physical response we usually have to something our mind tells us.

v Epigenetics is the study of inherited changes in phenotype (appearance) or gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence, hence the name epi- (Greek: ?π?- over, above) -genetics.

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