People who are happier in their relationships are often happier in their lives in general, and enjoy better physical health as well.
In our last post, we gave an example of how married couples who individually take the time to write down on paper some things about their relationship, have happier and more solid relationships.
This effect has been studied scientifically and this “expressive writing” has also been shown to help people with memory functioning, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and even those suffering with the symptoms of cancer.
Expressive writing is very personal. The writing is not meant to be read by anyone else, and if you want, you can rip up the writing after you are done. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling or anything else; the important thing is that you put down on paper something serious and important in your life—your feelings, emotions, some traumatic events in your life, etc.
You might think just talking to a friend is just as good. This is helpful too, but writing “for your eyes only” may allow you to be more open and free. And, writing by hand seems to force the brain to make positive changes, allowing us to better resolve painful memories.
Some further examples of how expressive writing can help:
If you have recurring thoughts or worries, these take up space in your mind and memory. If you release some of these disturbing thoughts, you will free up more of your memory capacity to devote to new, healthier thoughts. One research study involved college freshmen who either wrote about some trivial topic or about some negative personal experiences. The results showed that the students who wrote about the negative experience enjoyed an improvement in their memory capacities, as their mind was freed up.
In one study of university students, the researchers found that if the students wrote down before bed, about things that were either bothering them or things that they were grateful for, that they slept better after. Other larger studies have shown that writing down at bedtime a list of things a person was grateful for, helped the person get to sleep faster, and sleep longer and better.
Decreased anxiety and depression
Many people do not have access or cannot afford a weekly visit to a psychologist, and expressive writing can be one method to reduce symptoms. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that individuals with depression continued to show benefits up to four weeks after they completed just four days of expressive writing. They wrote for 20 minutes each day their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding some personal emotional event.
There are many other examples how expressive writing can be good for your emotional and physical health. Psychologist James W. Pennebaker has written a review, and the Johnson and Johnson Human Performance Institute has studied positive effects for both physical and mental health.
How you can do expressive writing
Write your own rules, but here is one way: Write for 20 minutes per day for at least 4 consecutive days. The topics you choose should be extremely personal and important to you. Don’t worry about how you do it; just write continuously. Save it to read later, or rip it up. The writing is just for your own eyes. Expect you might become saddened at first as you bring up painful thoughts, and if it’s too intense, just stop. But hopefully, after a few days, you will feel lighter and more able to deal with your life.
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