How can we improve our health and heal our diseases? After studying this question for a number of years, I’m convinced that two key factors are effective stress management and recovery from emotional trauma.
Fortunately, both of these issues can be tackled with a scientifically-proven, drug-free approach: writing therapy.
Expressive, pen-to-paper journaling reduces stress, boosts the immune system and helps the mind to process emotional trauma. Its positive effect on immunity helps people with many different chronic illnesses and reduces the severity of symptoms.
Julia Cameron’s iconic work on creativity, The Artist’s Way, introduced the concept of Morning Pages, the daily practice of off-loading worries and preoccupations onto the pages of a journal.
But many scientists have also investigated the power of expressive writing in the past 30 years and found that it really works. When you write about the painful experiences in your life, they lose much of their power to harm you.
Writing keeps the doctor away
In more than 300 controlled studies, the effects of writing therapy have been measured empirically and analyzed statistically. The results show that expressive writing doesn’t only free us up mentally, but also has physical benefits.
Scientists have known for years that a trauma of any significance makes people vulnerable to sickness and depression- it can even precipitate death from cancer or heart disease.
One researcher, James Pennebaker, wanted to know more, so he started researching how people healed from traumas. Working with J.R. Susman, he found that people who talked about an ordeal, whether it was the death of a family member, a divorce, sexual trauma, or any another event that had significantly changed them, were better off than people who kept their experiences a secret.
Pennebaker reasoned that if talking about traumatic events was helpful, then writing about them might also be effective. And he set up further studies.
In the first experiment, almost fifty students were randomly assigned to two groups; one group wrote about “the most traumatic experience of my life” and the other group wrote about a non-emotional topic.
With the participants’ permission, Pennebaker and his co-researcher S.K. Beall compared the number of visits made to doctors (due to illness, not routine check-ups) before and after the study.
In the first four studies of this type, the students who had written about their traumas made 43% fewer visits to doctors than students who had written about a non-emotional topic.
Follow-up studies confirmed that expressive writing enhances the performance of the immune system and that the benefits can last for many months.
Writing has since been shown to help people suffering from many chronic illnesses, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, liver disease, IBS- even cancer and HIV. The list of complaints responsive to writing therapy is a long one.
But you don’t have to have a chronic illness to benefit.
Young, healthy people who write expressively catch fewer colds, according to research.
Expressive writing can facilitate better moods and fewer symptoms of depression. Anxious people can reduce their level of ruminating and enjoy life more.
So what we’re seeing here is an effective, life-changing, holistic therapy. If you haven’t tried it for yourself, why not put it to the test?
If you want to get started, you can download Mari L McCarthy’s five-day introductory journaling course for free.