Everyone knows that reading can reduce cognitive decline, foster empathy, decrease stress, prevent dementia, increase happiness, and reduce some of the symptoms of depression . The benefits of writing are also known: it helps you work through your thoughts and emotions , regulates your feelings, and teaches you to express what you are going through. So why not take this into account to improve people’s mental health?
Writing in your own handwriting has more power inside you than you can imagine right now. You will only know the power it has if you start to write regularly, but of course, it is not useful to write anything, you must know what you write, how and why .
The mental benefits for writing
In one experiment, James Pennebaker of the University of Texas assigned healthy college students to one of four groups. All were asked to write for 15 minutes for four consecutive nights. Three of the groups were asked to write about some traumatic event in their lives .
The fourth group wrote about some other trivial topic. The four groups were then followed up for the next six months, and the researchers found that the three groups who wrote about traumatic events had fewer visits to the health center.
Since that seminal work by Pennebaker and his colleagues, many more studies replicated similar findings showing a connection between expressing emotions and enjoying good health. With this, they created a foundation that anyone can follow to improve their mental health through writing.
Improve your mental health with writing
Over the next 3 days, write about your deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of your entire life. In your writing, allow those emotions you have to come out and explore your deepest emotions and thoughts .
You can link this trauma to your childhood, your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends, or family. You can also link this event with your past, your present or your future, or with who you have been, who you would like to be or who you are now .
You can write
on the same general problems or experiences every day of writing or on different topics every day. Not everyone has had a single trauma, but we have all had major conflicts or stressors, and you can write about these too. All your writings must be absolutely confidential .
Why it works
You’ve more than likely heard of gratitude journals , but this more focused and expressive writing could be the next wave of writing therapy . Whether you use journal prompts created by a therapist or written in a book designed to help people work through emotions (such as Pennebaker’s) or you simply place your pen on the paper and write freely as Instructions from Pennebaker’s original research, writing can provide a healthy outlet for working through emotional ups and downs.
The only caveat: if you suffer from moderate to severe depression or writing of this type can open raw emotions without a proper closure. And therapeutic writing is not recommended immediately after a traumatic event, as you may not yet be ready to deal with the onslaught of emotions that writing can provoke .
The physical benefits of writing
In addition to the mental benefits, writing can even improve physical well-being. Research by Dr. Pennebaker and Dr. Joshua Smyth of Syracuse University suggests that writing about emotions and stress can improve immune function in patients with HIV / AIDS, asthma, and arthritis .
There has even been research showing that biopsy wounds heal more quickly in journaling patients.While scientists can’t say exactly how the benefits of therapeutic writing work, the consensus is that writing shouldn’t just be a repetition of the events, but must make attempts to understand and contextualize them .
The writer needs to find meaning in a traumatic memory, as well as feel the related emotions to reap the benefits. People who write words that indicate growth or change from experience such as “because”, “realize”, “understand” tend to do better.
How to start therapeutic writing
If you want to start writing to improve your emotions or try to feel better, you can try the advice that we are going to give you below . If what you want is a therapeutic writing, the ideal is that you go to a professional so that they can monitor how you do it and what are the objectives you intend to achieve or those that the professional considers most appropriate for your specific case.
Try these five steps to get started :
- It doesn’t have to be every day . You don’t have to do it every day, ideally 15 minutes three to four days a week.
- Experiment with the method . There is nothing magical in this … what is important is that you are reflective with the experiences lived and with the emotions felt.
- Find the right place. Find a place to write whenever you want to, that you feel comfortable and safe while doing it. Where you write can affect how you feel about it and whether it “works” or not. The most important thing is to have a quiet place.
- Don’t rewrite what you write at first . Part of the exercise is accessing your feelings and you can’t do this if you are constantly redirecting yourself. Do not go back to cross out what is written and rewrite what you consider to be correct even though it is not what you really feel. If you do this, writing will be of no use to you
- Read again but don’t do it immediately . Once you write you must allow what you have written to “rest” although it is a good idea to go back and see what you have written, but do not get carried away by that. If you read your previous writing before you finish, it can influence what you end up writing.