What if you could get out of pain faster just by writing a few sentences a day?
When conventional medical appointments aren’t enough to make you feel in control of your well-being, it’s time to supplement with evidence-based practices that help you reach your health goals faster.
For the past decade, I’ve used writing as one of my primary health transformation tools. I’m by no means a professional writer, but I find getting words onto paper helps me express my feelings, track my progress, and make better decisions about my health.
When you’re a go-getter, aches and pains limit your physical abilities. Sometimes your relationships are even put to the test.
Translating your feelings and thoughts about personally frustrating experiences into your own words can actually improve your physical and mental health. Studies show fewer physician visits and fewer reports of over-the-counter medicine usage with writing interventions (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986).
“Writing about stressful situations is one of the easiest ways for people to take control of their problems and release negative effects of stress from their bodies and their lives.” -James Pennebaker, PhD
Here’s a reminder of the impact of stress on the body. It’s not exactly the ideal physiological environment for healing.
Writing has long been used as a successful coping tool for individuals facing stressful situations. This has powerful implications in wellness, where individuals have sustained an injury or health challenge. A growing body of research shows that the heart rate lowers and people are more equipped to fight off infections when they release their worries in writing (Evans 2010).
A Healing Notebook can become a place to record and remember events, as well as witness the healing process as it unfolds. It’s easy to say, “I will remember this feeling forever.” Chances are, you won’t.
When we write about our experiences, we uncover the attitudes and beliefs we hold within ourselves that prevent us from healing.
With expressive writing, we benefit greatly from awareness alone. You can’t change something unless you’re aware of it.
-Helps you record and remember events
-Witnesses the healing process as it unfolds
-Increases personal awareness
-Improves your communication skills
-Empowers you to take action in your life
-Improves mental health
-Clears your mind
-Nurtures your creativity
-Releases strong emotions
Writing forces you to stop and re-evaluate your life circumstances.
Here’s how to get started, especially if you’re experiencing writer’s block:
- Write about the benefits that have come from the condition of your current health, even if they feel contrived. People who are able to look for the positive in challenging experiences generally report better physical and mental health outcomes from writing exercises. The Positive Psychology field has conducted a series of correlational studies on benefit finding and health. This approach has proven incredibly effective with my own clients’ frame of mind and ability to stay focused on forward movement. It can be enough to organize your feelings about your situation and cope effectively.
- Carry your Healing Notebook with you throughout the day. Use your notebook to capture ideas and insights, document actions and reactions and mark turning points as they happen. Jot down musings that seem unremarkable at the time, as you may make new connections later.
- Set a timer for 10 minutes and keep the pen moving on the paper. When I feel resistance to writing, I just write words until something flows. Sometimes, “I don’t know, I don’t know, this feels hard, I should really let the dog out, I am going to keep writing because I have a timer that is going to go off in 10 minutes,” builds enough of a habit to get the juices flowing. The purpose of writing is simply to allow yourself the freedom to express whatever arises.
- Use colored pens. Choose three topics that pertain to your recovery and assign a color to each. Your writing will feel more organized, and you may uncover threads and themes in your recovery that help you make decisions. For example, when I wrote during my hip injury, I used blue for “Advice That Feels Helpful,” purple for “Advice That Feels Unhelpful,” and green for “My Current Instincts.”
- Write outside the lines. Unlined notebooks can be very liberating for creative types who feel restrained by the regimen of daily writing. Feel free to doodle, map out ideas visually and write as big or as small as you prefer.
Grammar, spelling, sentence structure and punctuation never matter. Everything you write is confidential. Try not to censor yourself as you write. Simply be as honest as possible and allow any gut reactions to guide you through the process.
“Writing is an athletic activity… The muscles of writing are not so visible, but they are just as powerful: determination, attention, curiosity, a passionate heart.” (Old Friend from Faraway, Natalie Goldberg)
Interested in learning more? Check out the work of John Frank Evans, EdD and James Pennebaker, PhD for more in-depth books and programs that focus on the emotional and physical health benefits of writing.