There have been several studies showing that writing thoughts and emotions down has a measurable therapeutic effect. In this post, I'm going to focus on what happens when you focus your writing on emotional, stressful or traumatic events.
Short-term, it can of course make you feel worse when starting to dig up these memories as you write them down. But the long-term benefits last for months and are not limited to mental well-being. Below is a list of other long-term benefits of expressive writing, as explained in this awesome article by two psychologists in Australia.
- Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
- Improved immune system functioning
- Reduced blood pressure
- Improved lung function
- Improved liver function
- Fewer days in hospital
- 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 behaviour
The participants in these expressive writing studies, where the above benefits are found months later, are typically asked to just write for 15-20 minutes, at 3-5 separate occasions. It's pretty mindblowing how 60 minutes of active work over four days can improve your health, productivity, and happiness months into the future. Yepp, the above benefits where reported months after the study participants did 4x15 minutes of writing. This sounds almost too good to be true, right? You never know until you try it...
The instructions that the subjects were asked to follow are:
For the next 4 days, I would like you to write your very deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of your entire life or an extremely important emotional issue that has affected you and your life. In your writing, I’d like you to really let go and explore your deepest emotions and thoughts. You might tie your topic to your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends or relatives; to your past, your present or your future; or to who you have been, who you would like to be or who you are now. You may write about the same general issues or experiences on all days of writing or about different topics each day. All of your writing will be completely confidential.
Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule is that once you begin writing, you continue until the time is up.
So your homework is to follow the above instructions. Set aside 15 minutes a day for the next 4 days, and follow through on this. Your mental and physical health might be improved for months to come, if we are to believe the science. I'm going to try this myself to see what happens.