Sunday, January 24, 2016

Benefits of Expressive Writing

(New blog post (from a portion of the speech I gave on January 22 at Toastmasters and January 23 at the Local Author Fest in Lampasas.)

In this post, I am going to talk about the many psychological benefits of expressive writing which I can personally vouch for. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 1999 that linked writing about stressful life experiences to improved health. Joshua Smyth, the study’s co-author explained that the health benefits were a result of cognitive restructuring—learning to think about problems in a new way—along with changing levels of stress and anxiety. The lasting benefit comes from seeing the problems in a new light and a new perspective.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin is a pioneer in the study of using expressive writing as a route to healing. His research has shown that short-term focused writing can have a beneficial effect on everyone from those dealing with a terminal illness (pause) to victims of violent crime (pause) to college students facing first-year transitions. He believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. Writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others, and the world around you.

In a blogpost on Pictures and titled The Mental Health Benefits of Writing a Memoir, the author wrote: “writing can help your brain and your spirit to create order out of chaos. Just the act of organizing your past into a system, whether chronological or otherwise, can help you see your life in a different way and, according to neuroscientists, can even change your brain’s organic structure. Organizing your life into a structure, looking for patterns, and finding the words to express yourself is great mental exercise. Looking at the past can remind us of how tough we must be, because, hey, we’re still here.” For sure, I am definitely still here!

The blog I started in 2011 and writing my 2 memoirs did all these things for me. I was amazed at how much wisdom began to flow through my fingers while I wrote about my experiences—especially the stressful and traumatic ones. Indeed, I found order out of the chaos and developed new perspectives. I even became healthier and stronger in the process.

Life is a journey, not a destination. I encourage each of you to explore the very essence of who you are, heal your emotional wounds (we all have some), and write about your journey. Writing, indeed, is very therapeutic and no matter what is going on in your life, when you write your stories, they can live in a book instead of festering in your mind. As I state on the back cover of my 2nd memoir, Love-Life-&-God: Getting Past the Pain: “now the past is just a story… one I told in this book.”

Whether you decide to share your story with just family or publish on Amazon, print-on-demand technology has made anything possible. Please post a comment below and share your personal experience of how writing has made a difference in your life!