The undeniable health benefits of writing
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
I’ve been writing most of my adult life. I’ve been working with writers as a group facilitator and teacher for 30 years. In my experience, I can assert with confidence that writing changes lives. There is something healing about putting one’s thoughts, ideas, observations and wisdom onto the page. Some obvious benefits include:
It helps us organize and make sense out of what’s happened in the past or what’s current happening in our lives. It creates order out of chaos, giving us the temporary feeling of being in control of our world.
It allows us to bring buried feelings and deeply held perceptions to the surface so they can be seen and therefore understood. What we don’t know can often hurt us. Becoming conscious and aware of what’s inside opens up a multitude of possibilities to acknowledge, shift and heal ourselves.
If shared, writing helps us to connect with others at a deeper level. Hearing each other’s stories lets us see beyond the social masks we wear into the inner workings of another, fostering great compassion and empathy.
Writing can also be lots of fun. Using one’s imagination to create a story utilizes lots of aspects of ourselves that aren’t often used or expressed. A good story can take us on a playful adventure bringing us unexpected joy and inspiration.
Studies have shown that writing has many health benefits.
According to researcher and professor James Pennebaker, co-author of the book, "Opening Up by Writing it Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain," writing about life's challenges helps us heal physically and emotionally. He even goes so far as to say that writing can boost the immune system, helping those with illnesses including HIV/AIDS, asthma and arthritis.
Many other studies have been done that have shown similar results. Much of the research has focused on expressive or journal writing, which makes sense because real benefits come from moving pent-up stress and feelings from inside to outside. It’s kind of like decluttering the mind, so there is less unneeded junk lying around.
In her best-selling book, “The Artist’s Way,” author Julie Cameron asks her readers to write what she calls “morning pages” every morning. She defines them as follows:
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. They are not even ‘writing.’ They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page...and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
This practice beautifully captures the essence of using writing as a way to know ourselves, to free ourselves and to express ourselves — not for some specific goal or agenda, but to simply increase our awareness and ideally, create some space for inner peace.
My favorite class that I teach is my six-week memoir class. In a very short time, I see students that have a strong desire to write, but no clue about how to start, then blossom into students in love with writing and confident that they can do it.
Many are also facing numerous challenges in their lives. My joy as a teacher comes from knowing that at the end of their time with me, they will have learned how the process of writing returns them to themselves, and if shared, connects them with others.
The highlight of the class comes when my students share their stories out loud. They realize that they’ve not only written something, but they’ve also managed to summon up their courage to share it. They’re elated to have taken this big leap, and once taken, they’re hooked and want more. It is then that I know that my work is done.
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