You’ve probably heard the big news–People who write, live healthier lives. (Healthier than . . . ?)
Or maybe it’s people who write, die less quickly? (Less quickly than . . . ?)
Physical Health Benefits
Quoting a 2005 article in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, people who write enjoy more benefits than just publishing a piece of their work. Science has now proven long-term health benefits of writing which includes, less doctor visits, stronger immunity, less depression, etc.
Chalk it up to my doubting Thomas personality but, I’m a little skeptical.
First, notice it said long-term.
Short-term, maybe not so much: “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.”
Meaning, you’re going to feel kind of lousy at first because you are re-living a not-so-fun incident. At least temporarily. I’m not sure at what point the profits of long-term physical health kicks in but at least that sounds hopeful.
And yet, if only we could interview all those poets and writers who took their own lives and ask them if they felt so desperate shortly after writing about a misfortune, that they could not hold onto life. Did they not experience the long-term benefit of writing?
Emotional Health Findings
And yet, (that phrase will repeat rapidly and . . . repeatedly throughout this post) emotional health findings were not “as robust or as consistent as those for physical health.”
Are you like me in thinking that emotional health is one of the big reasons we do write expressively?
The key, which seems not to be emphasised, is that to benefit from expressive writing, you must confront the traumatic event during your twenty-minute writing session, seek to understand the event, then integrate your experience cognitively instead of just ruminating about your feelings. Otherwise, you are just propagating negative physiological reactions.
In other words, to reap the health pay-off, the key is to gain understanding of what you’ve experienced. Not just to upchuck all your nasty nauseating feelings, which, quite frankly, is kind of the fun part of writing expressively.
And yet, (I keep finding these caveats) one study suggests that while no direct evidence exists, structured writing seems to have more benefit than just journal or diary writing.
So, there you go. Just unlocking your diary (I almost spelled dairy, which I like better) and madly purging all those feelings you want to express about and to your BF, your BFF, your DH, your MIL, etc. does not lead to lowered blood pressure.
You gotta sort out the problems. Resolve them. Work them out. Learn from them.
And Yet Again.
As I read further a few phrases popped up: Some studies. Can benefit. Others failed to find any benefits. Not all studies find benefits. Results are inconsistent. Supporting and contradictory evidence. No direct evidence.
Recently I read a big name blogger whose guest poster expressed her belief that writing healed her depression. Again, my cynicism wagged a fiendish finger.
While I believe writing can aid in calming symptoms of depression. I don’t believe it can heal depression. I have a cell in that dungeon. I write there among the rats often. Writing underground cannot heal depression on its own.
And Yet Again Again
If you were to ask a random gathering if they thought writing was beneficial, I’d be the first to raise my hand because that is how I express myself. For someone who doesn’t enjoy writing, I’d guess, unscientifically of course, that forcing him/her to write twenty minutes a day would cause them stress. And writing long-term would cause them greater long-term stress. And quite possibly, they might decide that a life of words is not worth living for.
But, for those who love to write, we seek the joy of words, we chew them, suck them like lozenges, inhale the sometimes perverseness of surprise, then reread and rewrite and wake to do it again.
My point is that blanket statements and glass-overflowing, jump-to-conclusion analysis of studies offers false lofty promises.
Just keep it real. Writers are not superlative beings.
Just as runners love to run. Bakers love to bake. Quilters love to quilt.
Writers love to write.
If there were no psychological or physiological gain from participating in these activities . . . then why run? Why bake? Why quilt?
I’m stopping here.