How Writing Is Good For Your Physical and Mental Health

July 15, 2018

How Writing Is Good For Your Physical and Mental Health

 

Have you ever thought about why you love writing? For me, I think it’s a fantastic career. There certainly aren’t too many jobs out there that offer so much choice. As a writer, you can work from anywhere in the world, you decide when you write and what you write about, and you get to decide for how many hours a day you work. Altogether, these factors generally encourage a healthy empowered individual, who is, for the most part; creatively free and inspired, not having to deal with difficult bosses or co-workers, and not feeling trapped in a job they hate. However, while those are wonderful benefits, did you also know that whether you’re writing as a career or not, the act of writing itself has a multitude of benefits?

 

WHY DO WE WRITE? 

Let’s begin with why we tell stories and where our motivation to write comes from. From a psychological perspective, we know that human beings are constantly seeking to understand the world around them. For example, if we hear a loud noise we want to know what it is or if we’re involved in a car accident we want to understand why it happened. Once we understand how or why an event occurred we are more prepared to deal with it if it ever happens again. It’s all part of our survival instinct; being prepared allows us to survive in a chaotic and unpredictable world.

 

Writing a story and the process of developing a narrative deepens our understanding of both our experiences and how we relate to those experiences. The construction of a narrative organises the chain of events into a form that makes sense to us, while also integrating our thoughts and feelings into the storyline. A good narrative makes a complex situation easier to understand and process. We seek simplicity because once a scenario is simplified our mind doesn’t have to work so hard to provide it with meaning. Constructing stories gives us a sense of predictability and control over our lives, and allows us to get a sense of resolution to a given situation, resulting in less rumination and negative thinking.1

 

THE BENEFIT OF SELF-EXPRESSION

Another benefit of writing comes through its impact on our self-expression (the expression of our thoughts and feelings). Self-expression comes in many different forms, both verbal and non-verbal, and is often expressed through artistic activities. While many consider any form of self-expression to be beneficial, it has been found, when comparing writing to other artistic endeavours, that the translation of experiences into language is what increases the likelihood of long-term positive physiological change.

 

And wait, there are even more benefits, writing can improve both our physical and mental health. Just a few of these benefits include improvements in mood, stress levels, and depressive symptoms. Not a bad start and the great news is that these benefits are not influenced by the quality of your writing. So, whether you’re a good or a bad writer, you could still receive these positive outcomes.

 

IMPACTS OUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH

Okay, all this sounds great, but how can I make such bold claims? Well, luckily, I like to ensure that what I say matches with what the science is saying, so let me show you how these benefits are real and that they are backed by scientific studies. In 2005, a study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over four months was enough to make a positive difference.2 Another study, by King (2001), included 81 graduates who wrote about one of four topics for 20 minutes each day for four consecutive days.3 Three of the four topics were emotional, such as writing about a past trauma or writing about a best possible future self, and one topic was a non-emotional control. Five months after this experiment had been completed, results indicated that those participants who wrote about emotional topics had less illness when compared to the control group. And interestingly, when this experiment was replicated and the writing time was reduced to only two minutes each day for two days, the emotional topic writers continued to report fewer health complaints than those in the control condition.4

 

Further, writing has been found to influence more than just visits to the doctor. Writing impacts our immune system, with four different studies reporting that writing produces positive effects on the blood markers of immune function.5 And recent studies have shown that expressive writing reduces pain and fatigue and improves the well-being in women with fibromyalgia,6 can reduce the viral load in HIV-infected adults,7 and can produce lower evaluations of pain intensity in chronic pain clients.8 Those are some serious health issues being positively impacted by expressive writing, indicating it’s strong effect.

 

So, let’s wrap up. Writing can improve our physical well-being in many ways, including enhancing our immune system. Our mental state can be improved by writing due to improvement in mood and the reduced likelihood of negative rumination. Writing allows us to have a sense of predictability and control over our lives. And writing is an important form of self-expression. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved writing and thought it was beneficial, but I also find it helpful to understand some of the rationales and to know that there is some science backing up my beliefs.  

 

If you enjoyed this article, then you might also enjoy writing advice - how to get started in self-publishing or you might like to check out messy minds - how to tap into your creative spirit. 

And if you need support developing your creative capacity, consider seeing me for some creativity boosting sessionsI am happy to discuss your needs before we work together, just email or phone (contact details provided in the link through). 

 

 

 

 References:

  1. Pennebaker, J. W. (1999). Forming a story: The health benefits of narrative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55(10), 1243-1254.
  2. Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment,11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338
  3. King, L. A. (2001). The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(7), 798-807. doi:10.1177/0146167201277003
  4. Burton, C. M., & King, L. A. (2008). Effects of (very) brief writing on health: The two-minute miracle. British Journal of Health Psychology, 13(1), 9-14.
  5. Pennebaker, J. W. (1999). Forming a story: The health benefits of narrative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55(10), 1243-1254. 
  6. Broderick, J. E., Junghaenel, D. U., & Schwartz, J. E. (2005). Written emotional expression produces health benefits in fibromyalgia patients. Psychosomatic medicine, 67(2), 326-334.
  7. Petrie, K. J., Fontanilla, I., Thomas, M. G., Booth, R. J., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2004). Effect of written emotional expression on immune function in patients with human immunodeficiency virus infection: A randomized trial. Psychosomatic medicine, 66(2), 272-275.
  8. Norman, S. A., Lumley, M. A., Dooley, J. A., & Diamond, M. P. (2004). For whom does it work? Moderators of the effects of written emotional disclosure in a randomized trial among women with chronic pelvic pain. Psychosomatic medicine, 66(2), 174-183.
  9. Pennebaker, J. W. (1999). Forming a story: The health benefits of narrative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55(10), 1243-1254.

 

 

 




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