Keeping a simple journal is one of those things that I’ve always recommended to people throughout the years. There is just something about taking the time to put pen to paper that’s always been therapeutic to me. As it turns out, journaling is one of the best things you can do not only for your mind but for your body as well.
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Back in 1986, researchers Pennebaker and Beall did a study involving college students writing for 15 minutes about traumatic events in their lives for 4 days in a row. A control group was established of students who just wrote about inane topics like their shoes or describing the room for the same amount of time and the same number of sessions. The students who wrote about the traumatic events in their lives showed better self-assessed and objectively reported physical health 4 months later. They even went to the doctor less and missed fewer days of school. According to the researchers, “writing about earlier traumatic experience was associated with both short-term increases in physiological arousal and long-term decreases in health problems.”
In an article on BJPsych Advances, researchers Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm did a complete study of the research into effects of expressional writing. Based on the results from several different studies they have concluded: “The immediate impact of expressive writing is usually a short-term increase in distress, negative mood and physical symptoms, and a decrease in positive mood compared with controls. Expressive writing participants also rate their writing as significantly more personal, meaningful and emotional. However, at longer-term follow-up, many studies have continued to find evidence of health benefits in terms of objectively assessed outcomes, self-reported physical health outcomes, and self-reported emotional health outcomes.”
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According to Baikie and Wilhelm, the longer-term benefits of expressive writing are:
-Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor
-Improved immune system functioning
-Reduced blood pressure
-Improved lung function
-Improved liver function
-Fewer days in hospital
-Feeling of greater psychological well-being
-Reduced depressive symptoms before examinations
-Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms
Social and Behavioral Outcomes
-Reduced absenteeism from work
-Quicker re-employment after job loss
-Improved working memory
-Improved sporting performance
-Higher students’ grade point average
-Altered social and linguistic behavior
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Research into the effects of expressive writing on the body and mind is opening new avenues of treatment for many different conditions. Instead of taking a drug to deal with stress, it’s amazing to know that something as simple as writing about what is stressing you can be a more effective treatment. Then again, as a writer, I might be a little biased. The research doesn’t lie, though.