Human beings have an innate need to express themselves from handprints left on ancient cave walls to graffiti scrawled on public places. Some expressions reflect a desire to translate a high principle and others only make sense to the creator. Nonetheless, we need to express ourselves whether through the arts, work or our families.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was good. . .
The storytellers of the bible may not have been thinking about graffiti but a far loftier ideal. . . However, words can have impact on our lives bearing witness to the life events, recalling memories and healing wounds.
At one time, diaries with tiny golden keys provided little girls an invitation into a private world, where the dark secrets and longings in a child's heart are revealed without (hopefully) the prying eyes of parents and siblings. Especially, during the delicate pre-teen and teen years when the pressure to conform is enormous it is an important outlet to talk about the things that one dares not express to anyone else.
Wellness and Writing
As we grow and mature, we add life experiences to our repertoire of stories. Writing, and journal writing in particular, is a uniquely personal form of expression that does not require any talent. The words can be bland and uninspiring to the public eye but to you they are the tears and smiles from your heart. More importantly, words have the power to heal.
Studies on Writing and Wellness Reveal. . .
James W. Pennebaker, Professor of Psychology, at The University of Texas at Austin says this, "Standing back and exploring your thoughts and feelings about your major life experiences can have profound effects on your physical and mental health. An impressive body of research finds that when people write about traumas, negative or positive turning points in their lives, or simply write about their life stories, they derive great benefits."
Pennebaker with his associate Sandra Beall tested the relationship between
writing and wellness
in the studies they studied. Pennebaker is widely accepted as the father of successful studies on the effects of writing on health. Ruth Folit, of Chronicles Software Company says, "James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D. and others have done extensive research about the power of writing, how it is not only good for emotional well-being but for physical health as well."
The Journal of Clinical Oncology reported that early-stage breast cancer patients may benefit from journaling. Writing down feelings about the disease actually reduced visits to the doctor with breast cancer related symptoms. The researchers found that patients who recorded their feelings reported less coughing, sore throat and other physical symptoms and had fewer unscheduled medical appointments for cancer-related illnesses than other patients.
JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) in a related article, state "research has demonstrated that writing about emotionally traumatic experiences has a surprisingly beneficial effect on symptom reports, well-being, and health care use in healthy individuals." They conclude in their study, "patients with mild to moderately severe asthma or rheumatoid arthritis who wrote about stressful life experiences had clinically relevant changes in health status at 4 months compared with those in the control group."
In his article for the American Psychological Society, Pennebaker goes on to say, "writing or talking about emotional topics has also been found to have beneficial influences on immune functions, including t-helper cell growth…" He continues, "Behavioral changes have also been found. Students who wrote about emotional issues showed improvement in grades … and Senior Professionals who were laid off from their jobs get new jobs more quickly after writing."
How Can Writing Help You?
How can writing lead you towards wellness? Writing helps. It heals. It can cut down doctor visits but how do you begin this healing practice?
Begin simply: Buy an inexpensive journal or notebook and select a favorite pen. Create a sacred time for yourself when you are not likely to be disturbed. Write what is on your mind. Are you grappling with a difficult problem or illness? Begin there. Describe the problem or illness. Who/what is involved? Why is it a problem for you? How do you feel about the issue at hand?
Write about it consistently over several consecutive days - at least four days. Strong emotions may emerge - stay with them. Pennebaker and Beall discovered in their study that to significantly improve your spirits over the long-term, you must endure difficult feelings initially. Be detailed in both the experience and your feelings. Follow up studies revealed: in order to improve health, one must write detailed accounts -- linking feelings with events. Remember to be kind to yourself. Journal writing is not a substitution for therapy. Seek further help if you need it.
Ellen Moore, Ph.D., creator of
New Life Stories
offers the following advice. Learn to honor the silences in your writing. Allow for a free interplay between writing, living, and assimilating life. There may be times when you do not feel like writing. Instead, you may be busy living life, trying to understand it, or you may be in a challenging growth spurt that needs darkness and gestation time. If you do not write faithfully each and every day, congratulate yourself for being attuned to you inner rhythms. Your mind and spirit need rest just as does your physical body. Let go the guilt and act on your inner guidance to honor the rhythms of your own heart."
Some Other Things To Consider
Journal writing for healing is not the forum for complaining, whining or the place to become self-absorbed. Use it to record your joys and pleasures, work out issues and for a safe place to reveal your emotions. This is your personal journal and like the diaries given to little girls, it is for your eyes only. You never have to share it with anyone. Honor your privacy and your feelings.
Journal writing is a tool used over the long term for healing and personal growth. It does not require talent or money. Your journal can be a life-long companion. Use it well and it could reward you with a happier, fulfilled and healthier life.
Copyright © 2003 – 2009 by Sandra Schubert. All rights reserved. If you are interested in publishing this
article, please email
About the Author
Sandra Lee Schubert is an interfaith minister, poet and founder of Wild Woman Ministries, a forum to explore and express creativity and spirituality. As a minister and coach, Rev. Schubert helps people discover and unlock their creative potential and is committed to assisting people in fulfilling their dreams. She is the creator and instructor of the
Writing for Life: Creating a Story of Your Own.
She leads workshops on meditation, creative writing, spirituality, and facilitates a popular writing program called the "Wild Angels" at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
How have your expressed your own healing story?
Thanks for sharing with the rest of us!
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