It has been proven that when people write about difficult experiences or emotional upheaval it improves their health, not least by enabling them to sleep better. The relationship between expressive writing and wellness was discovered by Dr. James Pennebaker in the 1980s. As part of his research, college students wrote for 15 minutes on 4 consecutive days about ‘the most traumatic or upsetting experiences’ of their entire lives. Four months later, it was shown that significant benefits had been experienced by participants; with less visits to their GP and fewer sick-related days’ absence from college.
So what is ‘expressive writing’? Expressive writing expresses the personal feelings of the writer. It explores not so much what happened as it does about how you feel about what happened or is happening. Expressive writing literally comes from our core; it simply puts into words what is on your mind and in your heart.
The benefits of a period of regular expressive writing has since been further proven to have many immediate and longer term benefits. For some people the process helps them to organise themselves, for others, just putting what is happening into words makes a big difference, and for others, acknowledging the situation and putting it into words allows them to move past it, to move through it. It forces them to stop and put concerns into words; linking it to other issues summarises it and can bring closure.
If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when you are fresh and it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a brainstorm or great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive and creative after a good night’s rest. Sleep well!
Become Your Own Researcher
To help you get a better understanding of expressive writing and what it can do for you, become your own researcher. Try out writing about something that is extremely personal and important to you for 15-20 minutes for four days. (If you run out of things to say draw a line or repeat what you have already written. Keep pen on paper!) Remember, this is not a journal, it’s a re-evaluation of what’s important to you right now. Let us know how that works out for you by commenting to this blog post.
A couple of things to bear in mind: the immediate impact of expressive writing is usually a short-term increase in distress, negative mood and physical symptoms; do not continue to write as a matter of habit as you will lose the impact of expressive writing, which will potentially lead to rumination; and avoid writing before bedtime, because you want to have enough separation from your thoughts at night.