Monthly Archives: August 2009

WRITING HAS HEALTH BENEFITS

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Since a fairly young age I’ve found keeping a personal journalto be a great tool for helping me access and sort through my inward churnings.

Writing has always provided me with an anchor in my life, a means of self-criticism.  Writing in a journal provides a way to view yourself objectively and to express what you feel without fear of judgment.

While many people who journal on a regular basis do so because it makes them feel better, until recently there hasn’t been any scientific evidence to prove it.  Nancy Linnon, who lectures on writing and health at Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona, says; “I haven’t found one person who said journaling didn’t help them.”

Felice Willat, the founder of Day Runner, Inc., happened upon her idea in the late 1970s. She envisioned a product that would help individuals tap into their inner worlds. When Day Runner emerged, it reflected the tone and needs of that time-crunched era.  It served to organize the many roles, goals and activities that continue to fill our busy lives.  Individual approaches to these challenges vary from drawing circles and highlights on a refrigerator calendar to creating elaborate entries on desktop computers. While organization is beneficial, there is more to life than running errands, keeping lunch dates and brainstorming at the office.  Our inner lives are as big, if not bigger than, our outer lives.

Journaling helps integrate and organize our complicated lives in a variety of ways. It not only resolves traumas that stand in the way of important tasks; it helps in remembering significant events and turning points; it captures our creative stories, poems and ideas; it helps us discover and define our values and purpose; it helps us reap the wisdom of our dreams and discover what is sacred in our lives.

In her book, A Voice of Her Own, Marlene A. Schiwy talks about the healing dimensions of journal writing: “To create wholeness in our lives is to heal ourselves …It is the attainment of wholeness of body, mind, emotions and spirit…. It (the journal) offers one place where literally and symbolically, all of the pieces of one’s life can be brought together.”

Lucia Cappaccione, author of The Well Being Journal, recognizes that physical illness can teach great lessons from within…”The most important message I learned from my disease is that the healing process is activated by a spiritual force that resides within. A journal can be a ‘living textbook’ for learning the lessons that the illness has to teach.

Researchers like James W. Pennebaker, M.D., professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and Joshua M. Smyth, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at North Dakota State University, are proving what journal keepers have always known —  journaling is good not only for the soul, but for the body as well.

Their first studies, documented in the late l980’s, examined healthy people and journaling. Researchers found that people who write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding upsetting events have stronger immunity and visit their doctors half as often as those who write only about trivial events. A study conducted by Joshua M. Smyth at the State University of New York at Stoneybrook and presented in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that writing about a stressful experience reduces physical symptoms in patients with chronic illnesses. The research team monitored 112 patients with arthritis or asthma. The subjects were asked to write in a journal for 20 minutes three days in a row.  They were allowed to choose whether to write about an emotionally stressful incident or their plans for the day. 

Of the group who wrote about their anxiety, 50% showed a large improvement in their disease after four months. Only 25% of patients who wrote on neutral topics showed any relief of symptoms.  “More importantly,” says Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, ISPA Medical Advisor, “22% of the people who only wrote about their daily plans worsened substantially over the four-month period, while only 4% of those who wrote about their stressful events did so.” She adds, “One of the least studied techniques so commonly taught in spas is journaling. Now, there is intriguing evidence that journaling has a direct impact upon the status of chronic disease.”

Journal writing has no risk factors …neither mental nor financial.  It has the potential to provide the gentlest and safest of therapies. No expertise is required to journalize, no minimum time required, and you don’t lose the benefits if you miss a time period.

 

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