The Health Benefits of Expressive Writing
As I write this, I might be improving my health. I know that expressive writing—creative writing and writing in my journal before bedtime—is good for my mental health, but I wondered if others benefit mentally or even physically from writing. I investigated this and learned people have researched writing’s health benefits. Here, I’ll let my thoughts and their findings mingle to let you draw your own conclusions.
Mental Health Benefits
A few years ago, I sought counseling, but verbalizing my emotions was challenging. I didn’t struggle to write about my feelings in my journal, though. I brought my journal with me to my second or third counseling appointment and read parts of my entries to my therapist. From then on, she understood me better and could help me more.
According to James W. Pennebaker’s summary of research studies, writing makes people pause to reflect on life. People can see their past and future and find meaning in them while prioritizing and considering their sense of self at the time. Individuals must acknowledge positive and negative emotions, which are involved in nearly all psychological phenomena, to investigate and understand them (Pennebaker 283). I acknowledged my emotions in my journal, allowing me to investigate, process, and understand them during counseling.
Counseling became in part a chance to reflect on my writing, which might have contributed to my improved mental health. That’s because another finding is that writers benefit more when they have time to think about their writing afterward (Pennebaker 284). My therapist realized writing helped me sort through my emotions, so she asked me to do my “homework” assignments in writing. Counseling and writing eased me through that dark period.
Physical Health Benefits
I’ve tried treatment after treatment for my chronic illness and have been writing since I first fell ill with it. Unfortunately, writing doesn’t improve my physical health. Maybe writing helps indirectly by preserving my mental health, but I have no clear evidence and feel no definite improvement.
Others have experienced physical health improvement from writing, however. Studies have shown that writing decreases blood pressure, use of pain medicine, and visits to physicians because of common ailments, which suggest that writing reduces biological stress (Pennebaker 287). Writing may help you more than it’s helped me.
Social Health Benefits
Along with physical and mental health, social health is an aspect of well-being. I’m shy, and I’ve hesitated for a year to tell my boss that I have a physical disability; now I feel ready to tell her about it. I’ve written about my chronic illness and the positive outcomes that revealing I have it could produce. I’ve essentially rehearsed what I’ll say to her, and I’m sure our relationship will improve when I say it.
Writing can in fact improve social health. In a study, those who wrote about emotional subjects interacted with others differently in the next weeks, using positive language differently. Writing can change how we think, which can then change social interactions (Pennebaker 290). If you want to improve the quality of your relationships, consider writing expressively.
Mystery remains about how expressive writing benefits health and why some don’t experience physical health benefits. If you’re ready to try a free and fun way to improve your health, grab a pencil and paper or a computer. Happy writing!
Work Cited: Pennebaker, James W. “Writing, Social Processes, and Psychotherapy: From Past to Future.” The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-Being. Ed. Stephen J. Lepore and Joshua M. Smyth. 281-91. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Print.
Photo: josef.stufer, Flickr Creative Commons
About Darla Word
I'm a writing tutor and editor from Michigan. My favorite subject to write about is writing because making better writers is my calling. I also enjoy reading, singing, swimming, and cardmaking.