The benefits of writing extend beyond the way it creatively engages the intellect. Writing can be an emotionally rewarding way of letting go of pent up stress and sorrow. It’s good to control and override stressful emotional impulses but it serves no benefit if we keep them inside of us. Exercise or talking to loved ones about how you feel can help in this regard, but you may find yourself in a situation where you might not have a voice to hear you or you prefer to keep how you feel to yourself but still need a way to release your emotions. Writing in this case can be very helpful.
Writing helps you enter a flow state in which all the built up emotions rush out of your heart and mind and onto the paper. When you write vividly and honestly about your experiences and how you feel, a gradual collection of emotional experiences will be documented throughout your life. Looking back at the journal, you will be able to see patterns of how certain emotional conflicts arise, giving you insight into the source and nature of your malfunctions, and the environment you are putting yourself in that is increasing those conflicts. You’ll be in a position to make a better decision about whether certain behavior patterns are serving you or not, as well as determine which people and things are causing those problems in your life.
I call this process a wisdom journal because, looking back on your writings, you will have a more thorough understanding and appreciation for who you have become as a result of your past toils and hiccups. This journal will document the gradual strengthening of your mind and the evolutionary process of who you have become.
This will only work if you are honest about yourself and you truly document your contributions to the scenarios that made you feel a certain way. Your mistakes are all a part of the process of becoming a better person so it is important to document the mistake and the overall lesson learned from it. This is a very personal documentation of your journey, so if you are worried about other people finding and reading it, you can write it in a way that only you can understand, using metaphors and language that would appear vague to others but trigger crystal clear memories within you.
The physical and mental health benefits of writing include long-term reductions in stress levels and depressive symptoms. A 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing a day was enough to make a difference in the overall stress levels of participants.
Participants were less likely to have illnesses and less likely to experience trauma as a result of writing about traumatic, emotional, and stressful events. Less time was spent in the hospital along with a drop in blood pressure and liver functionality.
Remarkably, another study suggests that writing can help physical wounds heal faster. In 2013, New Zealand researchers monitored the recovery of wounds from medically necessary biopsies on 49 healthy adults. For 3 days the participants wrote about upsetting events or daily activities for 20 minutes each day. After two weeks (researchers wanted to wait to make sure any initial negative feelings stirred up by recalling upsetting events had passed), all the subjects had a biopsy on the arm and then their healing was tracked over the subsequent twenty one days. 11 days after the procedure, 76% of the group that chose to write were healed completely while 58% of the control group had not yet recovered. The study concluded that writing about distressing events helped the participants come to terms with the events, therefore reducing distress.
People who suffer from a long term disease or illness can benefit from writing. Studies have revealed that people who suffer from asthma have fewer attacks if they keep a journal of how they are feeling compared to those who don’t. AIDS patients who write have been proven to show higher T-cell counts because they are under less stress. Cancer patients who write are less affected by stress and depression and have an improved quality of life because they are more optimistic.
James W. Pennebaker has been conducting research on the healing nature of writing for several years at the University of Texas at Austin. “When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health. They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function.”
Pennebaker suggests that the act of expressive writing enables one to take a step back and more objectively analyze their life. Rather than obsess over a life event in an unhealthy manner, one can focus on moving forward. Moving forward with less anxiety about the future reduces stress; it removes the blockage that is holding one back from being happier.
It seems like writing can be akin to exercise, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep. Our emotional well-being is just as important as our physical well-being and writing is a great way to keep ourselves emotionally fit. Thoughts and emotions are like little life forms in our body. They want to live as long as possible and run the show. When we write, we are getting those thoughts and emotions out of our body and into the zoo. Our journals are the zoo of experiences that make us who we are.