How Writing helps in Healing
There is no life where there is no conflict. It is an inevitable part of life, and one that often acts as a catalyst to create our stories. We are altered, affected and sometimes even scarred for life, mentally, emotionally and physically by accidents, disappointments, failures, illnesses, bereavements – all of which appear along various stages of our lives, and in ways that baffle us. Sometimes, their impact is felt much longer than we had ever anticipated, colouring our vision and our perspective, and occasionally also interfering with our ability to lead a normal life.
Writing as a therapy
Our varying methods of coping with these painful situations often dictates how we ease our emotional pain over time. While there are many ways of dealing with this, one therapeutic technique that stands apart from the rest in helping us heal in times of confusion, broken hearts, and deepest loss is simple and yet intensely powerful—writing. Expressing one’s deepest thoughts in words and delving into the mind-body connection has been found to be important to not just mental but physical well-being as well.
Last summer, while coping with a series of illnesses and a surgery that was unplanned, I experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions and health conditions that had left me seriously distressed. I struggled through the first half of the year in ways beyond my means, quietly suffering for months; even slipping into some sort of a depressive state. After a few unsuccessful attempts at self-healing, I discovered the therapeutic benefits of writing and it opened up a perspective on my life. It was a matter of months when I finally began to see the positive changes that I had been hoping for and the calming effect of writing helped to cut my mental and physical wound healing time by a sizeable fraction!
How Journaling helped me
I kept a journal that captured my innermost thoughts and emotions, as I attempted to heal myself. I wrote almost every day and tried to understand my thoughts and fears a little better through my words. It was a slow process of unburdening my innermost feelings in a way that I hadn’t done earlier, but it helped that I wrote every day. In doing so, I was also trying to make sense of it all. The writing would be automatic, intuitive and almost unconscious for me. As time passed, I healed and felt convinced that writing alone had significantly helped me lift my sagging morale and come to terms with my health conditions. Therein, began my first step towards self-healing through writing.
Writing heals: Validation through research
Over the last couple of decades, numerous studies have been done by researchers on the transformative power of writing. One significant study by Dr James Pennebaker, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, shows a correlation between people who had had traumatic experiences and an increased number of health problems. Early on in his career, he wondered what would happen if he brought people into the lab and asked them to reveal the traumas they had kept secret. In his first study, published in 1986, he randomly assigned a group to either write about major upheavals or superficial topics. In the six months that followed, those who had written about trauma visited doctors at much lower rates those who had written about random topics.
Self-reflection in writing makes a difference
Study after study bore out Dr Pennebaker’s thesis that putting negative experiences into words seems to have positive physical and psychological effects. Eventually, he began to see nuances in the way writing helps us heal. One was that those people who are able to make a positive slant in their writing — by using words like “love,” “care,” “happy” and “joy” — appear to benefit more than others. Another important factor was an element of self-reflection in the writing, often manifested through the use of causal words like “because,” “cause,” “effect,” “reason,” “rationale,” or any other word that suggests the writer is trying to make sense of what happened to him or her. It became clear that putting things together, the cause and effect link – the self-reflection was making a difference. The ability to shift perspective is also key. Standing back and seeing the trauma from different points of view – our own and through the eyes of others. This is when writing helps one heal.
Writing helps make sense of things
Writing helps us in making sense of whatever is happening around us. In a way, when we write things down, the act of putting pen to paper makes it very real and tangible. One can see things with clarity. There are times when speaking about pain becomes difficult. That is also when writing comes to the aid and helps us release our emotions. A blank sheet of paper is all that is needed to capture our most intimate fears, concerns and hopes.
Writing helps us to let go and accept that we may never find answers
By way of exploring our emotions through writing, we can keep all our questions and possible solutions accessible. Our next step forward is driven and directed by time alone. Usually it is after a certain amount of review and reworking that we are eventually able to move ahead.
Writing improves our mental and physical health
The act of writing provides us the opportunity and the space to channelize our thoughts in, and release all those pent up negative emotions, almost to a purgatory effect. Studies have shown that writing about problems boosts our immune system which in turn, improves our emotional health, leaving a positive impact on our lives in a multitude of ways.
Writing our story
One of the many ways of using writing as a therapy is to write for 15-20 minutes on a topic that bothers us—preferably an event or emotion. To share the experience one can even fictionalize it or change the circumstances in order to be comfortable. After all, writing’s power to heal lies not in pen and paper, but in the mind of the writer, say a number of psychologists, who use it with their patients.
For many of us, the starting point of the healing process might be to actually pen down our own story. We may simply want to write the story for ourselves, or craft it as a reference point for others to understand themselves better and move out of the conflict zone. The lasting effects of releasing those pent up thoughts and the sense of relief is a tremendously positive experience – one that many of us can relate to.
Have you been inspired to tell your story to others? Have you thought of sharing your fears and concerns with others?
If you are new to Friday Reflections, here’s what it’s about. It’s the end of the week, you’re probably exhausted with work, and all you want to do is sit back, put your feet up, sip on some fancy cocktail or wine, and write away. Sanch and Write Tribe give you writing prompts and all you have to do is choose any one of those prompts to blog about and link up between Friday and Monday. After you link up, be sure to spread the love by visiting other bloggers who have linked up too.
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Since Sanch is located in Australia and a lot of Aussie bloggers join this link up, the post will be up here by Thursday evening.
Prompts for this week
- What’s your favourite season of the year? Write a post about that either in the form of an essay or a creative piece.
- Go people watching and write an ode to a stranger you see on the street.
- Are you a pushover? Do you find it hard to say no? Share your learnings and experiences.
- “I am enough” – Brene Brown. Use this quote as an inspiration for your post or within your post.
- Picture Prompt (picture credit http://everydaygyaan.com )