Telling Your Story May Be Good for Your Health
– Laura Kiesel, Community Advocate
Mental and physical health benefits
In a study on expressive writing, researchers asked 1 group of participants to select a personally traumatic experience and write about it for 15 minutes for 4 days in a row. The researchers then compared this group's responses with a group that wrote about neutral topics. Those in the first group reported an improved mood after writing, as well as long-term health benefits including improved memory, fewer intrusive negative thoughts or memories, and reduced blood pressure.1
The study found that participants with serious health diagnoses showed more improvement than those in the control group. They reported improved sleep, reduced pain intensity, and even improvements to their immune system.1
How does writing about traumatic experiences can have a positive physiological effect? One theory is that bottling up thoughts and emotions related to a painful event requires work that can stress the body and mind. Bringing those feelings out through writing may reduce that stress and provide relief.2
Tips for getting started
Schedule a time and place
If you are someone who responds to a routine, schedule a time in your day to write. Find a peaceful place to write where you will not be interrupted.1
Try different ways
Try writing freehand in different types of notebooks or journals, then try writing on your phone or computer. Some people write by speaking into a recorder and having it transcribed by a computer program or app. See what works for you.
Do not edit as you write the first draft
An important instruction the researchers in the expressive writing study gave participants was to disregard concern about spelling, grammar, or how their story might be perceived.1
Monitor your anxiety
Be sure to check in with yourself emotionally as you are writing by ranking your anxiety on a scale of 1 through 10. Some events take a long time to process before you can write about them, and you may not be ready today. If you rate your anxiety at a high number while writing, put it aside, focus on self-care, and let yourself write when you are ready.
Julia Cameron, author of the self-expression workbook The Artist’s Way, describes an exercise called Morning Pages. She suggests writing for 3 pages without stopping the moment you wake up in an effort to express yourself without a filter and start the day with a clearer mind.3
Some therapists suggest using creative techniques to provide distance from difficult topics. One such technique is to write about something that happened to you in the third-person perspective. For example: “[Insert your name here] walked into the waiting room feeling anxious, and stared at the floor until they finally called her name.”4
Share with us
The events we experience can sometimes make us feel lonely and isolated. While we know telling our stories can have positive benefits for our health, the change it can make for a reader can be just as strong. We invite you to share your story with our community.