Have you ever felt like writing was the only way to get something off of your mind? Ever felt relief after pouring your thoughts onto the page?
Throughout different seasons of my life, writing has been therapeutic. I would pour my anxious thoughts onto the page and find relief. Thoughts that kept recycling through my mind would finally be laid to rest on the page. Writing became my key tool for collecting thoughts, making sense of things, and reducing anxiety. Writing has been such an effective tool for me, it got me curious to see if this was true for others. So I started researching and came across one particular man, James Pennebaker, who has been studying this topic for more than 30 years.
Hundreds of studies have shown that expressive writing can improve your mental and physical health, boost your immune system, and ease emotional pain.
It appears possible that writing, which is a formalized form of thinking, helps people derive information from their experiences that helps them guide their perceptions, actions, thoughts, and emotions in the present. – Jordan B Peterson, Raymond Mar in Writing Benefits
Expressive writing isn’t merely journaling or writing in a diary. The specific technique developed by James Pennebaker is where people write about an upsetting experience for 15 to 20 minutes a day for three of four days. He introduced this technique 30 years ago and has been studying the results ever since.
His studies revealed some interesting trends. He wanted to figure out why some people saw improvements in their health and others did not.
He consistently found that those who benefit from this writing exercise write differently than those who don’t.
The writings of those whose health improved showed a high rate of the I-words on one occasion and then high rates of the use of other pronouns on the next occasion, and then switching back and forth in subsequent writings. In other words, healthy people say something about their own thoughts and feelings in once instance and then explore what is happening with other people before writing about themselves again…Perhaps, like good therapy, healthy writing may involve looking at a problem from multiple perspectives. – The Secret Life of Pronouns
Of the thousands of people they’ve studied and evaluated, the common denominator among those who experienced significant health improvements was in the way they wrote, specifically in their use of pronouns. A healthy combination of back and forth — I, me, my to he, she, we, us — resulted in the greatest affect.
People who benefit from writing express more optimism, acknowledge negative events, are constructing a meaningful story of their experience, and have the ability to change perspectives as they write. – The Secret Life of Pronouns
Expressive writing helps you take a step back from the event, situation or relationship and look at it from multiple perspectives to construct meaning from it. Not all people benefit from this exercise, however, it may be a solution to an issue you’re facing.
Maybe you’re in a situation or a relationship and you can’t get past it. Your thoughts are consumed by this “thing.” It sucks up a lot of your mental energy and may even deprive you of sleep.
Why not try writing about it?
Dump all of your thoughts and feelings on a page. Get a pen out and start writing. Don’t worry about it making sense or sounding good, just write it down.
You could even try the specific technique I mentioned: Write to 15 to 20 minutes for 3-4 days spread out over a couple weeks. First session use I-words. Second session write using other pronouns – maybe he/she. Third session back to I-words. Switch back and forth between the pronouns you’re using. Acknowledge the negative. Look for the positive and begin constructing meaning.
Writing is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It can reduce anxiety, bring mental clarity, heal trauma and even improve your physical health. If you’ve never tried writing before, give it a shot. If you write often and are seeing positive results, keep writing. It’s worth it.
Has writing helped you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
For more information on this topic, here are the links to the books and articles that I’ve referenced:
*The Secret Life of Pronouns – What Our Words Say About Us
*The Benefits of Writing by Jordan B Peterson & Raymond Mar
*Writing to Heal – American Psychological Association