Sometimes when it seems as if everything is going wrong, talking with a friend can make things feel much better. But what if the problem is so personal that talking is not an option? What if it seems as if no one could possibly understand? Experts suggest putting words on paper.
According to the article “How Writing Helps Us Heal,” everyone has methods of coping with what they don’t understand, of dealing with painful
situations in life. One technique that helps heal in times of confusion, broken hearts and deepest loss is simple but powerful – writing.
Simply putting words on paper helps to make sense of things and makes the feelings more tangible. It puts the events into a new light and gives a new perspective of what is taking place and helps the writer accept that he/she may never have answers for why things are happening. Putting words to paper is very different from just trying to think things through.
Studies have been conducted that have suggested that journaling has actually been proven to improve physical and mental health and boost the immune system when the writer expresses feelings about troubling issues. Journaling gives space to channel, process and release negative emotions and eases stressful situations.
In the article “Writing to Heal,” the American Psychological Association documents research results that indicated that journaling helps people manage and learn from negative experiences; writing strengthens the immune system as well as the mind.
The article documents a study conducted by psychologists James Pennebaker, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin and Joshua Smyth,
PhD, at Syracuse University that suggests that writing about emotions and stress can boost immune function in patients with such illnesses as HIV/AIDS, asthma and arthritis.
Researchers have found that while writing has proven benefits some people gain more positive results from the exercise of putting feelings into words and words onto paper. How effective the technique can be depends largely on the way people use the exercise to interpret their experiences, right down to the words they choose.
“Venting emotions alone, whether through writing or talking, is not enough to relieve stress and thereby improve health,” Smythe emphasizes. He goes on to say that, in order to tap writing’s healing power, people must use it to better understand and learn from their emotions.
Pennebaker says, “By writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings. It helps to get past them.”
But experts seem to agree that, in order to get the full benefit from writing about traumatic experiences or significant loss, the writer has to be able to look at the event and the writing in a manner that leads to a greater understanding of what has taken place and how to deal with the feelings the event created and move on.
Health Psychology Researcher Susan Lutgendorf, PhD, of the University of Iowa, suggests that people who relive upsetting events without focusing on meaning report poorer health than those who derive meaning from what they write. Those who focus on the meanings of the event and the words they write develop greater awareness of positive aspects of a stressful event.
She further says it takes focused thought as well as emotions. An individual needs to find meaning in a traumatic memory as well as to feel the related emotions to reap positive benefits from writing.
Pennebaker explains the difference between simply talking about a stressful event and writing about that event by saying that there has to be growth or change in the way the writer views their experiences. Writing helps individuals to put the feelings into written words and gives them the opportunity to go back periodically and review what they have written as time passes and they have moved past the event. Doing this helps the writer to see how time changes things and to see the good in a situation.
All of the experts who contributed to this article suggest that the power to heal through writing lies not in the pen and paper but in the mind of the writer. The writer has to be able to look at what they have written objectively and find the good in the bad situation they have documented.
C. Loran Hills, in an article titled “10 Journaling Tips to Help You Heal, Grow and Thrive,” says that journaling can help with personal growth and development, help the writer to gain insight into the writer’s behaviors and moods, help with problem solving and stress reduction. Journaling also helps with increased mental and physical health and self-esteem. Journaling allows the writer to feel a greater understanding and compassion when looking at past events.
The article says journaling is one of the best ways to improve perspective on life and clarify issues. The article goes on to document 10 beneficial tips for getting the most benefit from writing in a journal. Start writing about a living situation, work situation or relationship and where it is and where it is going. For five minutes, just start writing in a “stream of consciousness.” Don’t edit the words or feelings and don’t correct the grammar.
Don’t censor the thoughts. Just let them flow. Write with the “subdominant hand.” What issues emerge? Answer with the dominant hand. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude by maintaining a daily list of things to appreciate in life, including uplifting quotes, photos or other items that inspire.
Start a journal of self-portraits. Take pictures, draw colors or shapes or collage images. Learn to love and accept the way things are at that moment. Keep a nature diary to connect with the natural world. Maintain a success log. Start by writing the big ones; then regularly jot down small successes that occur during the week. Keep a log or playlist of favorite music. Write about the moods the music evokes or the memories it triggers.
Take an event that is a current worry and write about it in third person to gain distance and a new perspective on the situation. When finished, write down what has been learned from the writing. Develop intuitions. Write down questions or concerns, then take a deep breath and listen for a response from inside. Write automatically and don’t be concerned if an instant answer doesn’t come.
Hills says, “We all have dark days, black moods and anxious feels. Use writing in a journal to explore the darkness and find inner light.”
Sometimes, getting started with journaling can be difficult to do. Putting feelings into words can be very hard. Julia Cameron, in the American Psychological Association article, suggests writing three handwritten pages or 750 words every morning. Again, don’t edit what is going onto the paper, either while writing or after reading what has been written. The writing may seem jumbled in the beginning, but eventually little jewels or wisdom will begin to emerge from the subconscious and put the whole topic in a different light.
Following this advice and using journaling to change perspective and shine a new light on stressful situations can bring inner peace and healing to life.