I used to be an excellent journal keeper. I’ve since turned to blogging and spend less time with an actual pen in my hand, sitting in bed, recording thoughts. I need to take it up again and I have a couple of scientific studies to remind myself that doing so makes life better.
The first one, Emotional and physical benefits of expressive writing (2005), proves that writing can help you deal with traumatic, stressful, and emotional events in your life. That, alone, isn’t a new finding. But the study went more in depth into using what they termed “expressive writing” as the coping method.
Expressive writing instructions: Write about your deepest thoughts and feelings in regards to either your most traumatic experience or an emotional issue that is extremely important to you. While writing, you may tie your experience or issue to your relationships with family, lovers, and/or friends. Think about how it has affected your past, present and your future. What type of person has it made you and what type of person do you want to become? Do this for four days, writing about one specific experience, or different ones each day. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or other errors. Once you start writing, you must continue until time is up. This is a free write exercise.
Benefits from expressive writing (as reported directly in the study):
- Fewer stress-related visits tot he doctor
- Improved immune system functioning
- Reduced blood pressure
- Improved lung function
- Improved liver function
- Fewer days in hospital
- Improved mood/affect
- Feeling of greater psychological well-being
- Reduced depressive symptoms before examinations
- Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms
- Reduced absenteeism from work
- Quicker re-employment after job loss
- Improved working memory
- Improved sporting performance
- Higher students’ grade point average
- Altered social and linguistic behavior
So what are you waiting for? With all of these benefits, get writing about those emotional life experiences.
In another study, based on the research of social scientists over several years, Writing exercises scientifically proven to redirect your life (2015). The coping method to use here is called story editing. We each have our own narrative; we’ve told ourselves what our own story is based on who we see ourselves as and what the world around us is like. Our own story influences our choices and our experiences. But it’s our story. We wrote it.
You wrote your own story.
You can edit it.
Using specific writing exercises, you can shift your personal narrative, redirecting your thinking. As you write, you create and that creation is your tool.
You can write things out of your life that are too hard, such as personal loss, health problems, financial crises, but you can change your relationship to these things.
Story editing instructions: What is an event or concern that has been weighing you down lately? Clear your schedule for 15 to 20 minutes at the end of that day to focus on that specific problem and write about it. For four days in a round (sound familiar?), do this for 15 minutes each night. As you write, don’t stop, even if you make mistakes or get stuck on an idea. Write without stopping.
Another exercise for story editing instructs you to close your eyes and focus on an upsetting event. Try to imagine that you take a few steps back from yourself and watch as your story unfolds, then write about that distant version of yourself, about thoughts and feelings, written in the third person.
Now get out there and write. Reap the benefits.