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Telling Your Story May Be Good for Your Health

“While writing about my health issues has not cured them, it has helped me develop better coping skills and even contributed to better management of my symptoms (and I could argue, at times helps decrease my symptoms, or at least distracts me from them and the attendant pain).”
– Laura Kiesel, Community Advocate

The past few years have taken their toll. However, there is evidence that telling the story of what you have been through can be good for your health. Researchers have found that writing about our experiences – especially traumatic, emotional, or stressful experiences – can benefit both physical and mental wellbeing.1

Mental and physical health benefits

In a study on expressive writing, researchers asked 1 group of participants to select a personally traumatic experience and write about it for 15 minutes for 4 days in a row. The researchers then compared this group's responses with a group that wrote about neutral topics. Those in the first group reported an improved mood after writing, as well as long-term health benefits including improved memory, fewer intrusive negative thoughts or memories, and reduced blood pressure.1

The study found that participants with serious health diagnoses showed more improvement than those in the control group. They reported improved sleep, reduced pain intensity, and even improvements to their immune system.1

How does writing about traumatic experiences have a positive physiological effect? One theory is that bottling up thoughts and emotions related to a painful event requires work that can stress the body and mind. Bringing those feelings out through writing may reduce that stress and provide relief.2

Tips for getting started

Schedule a time and place

If you are someone who responds to a routine, schedule a time in your day to write. Find a peaceful place to write where you will not be interrupted.1

Try different ways

Try writing freehand in different types of notebooks or journals, then try writing on your phone or computer. Some people write by speaking into a recorder and having it transcribed by a computer program or app. See what works for you.

Do not edit as you write the first draft

An important instruction the researchers in the expressive writing study gave participants was to disregard concern about spelling, grammar, or how their story might be perceived.1

Monitor your anxiety

Be sure to check in with yourself emotionally as you are writing by ranking your anxiety on a scale of 1 through 10. Some events take a long time to process before you can write about them, and you may not be ready today. If you rate your anxiety at a high number while writing, put it aside, focus on self-care, and let yourself write when you are ready.

Writing exercises

Morning pages

Julia Cameron, author of the self-expression workbook The Artist’s Way, describes an exercise called Morning Pages. She suggests writing for 3 pages without stopping the moment you wake up in an effort to express yourself without a filter and start the day with a clearer mind.3

Third-person

Some therapists suggest using creative techniques to provide distance from difficult topics. One such technique is to write about something that happened to you in the third-person perspective. For example: “[Insert your name here] walked into the waiting room feeling anxious, and stared at the floor until they finally called her name.”4

Share with us

The events we experience can sometimes make us feel lonely and isolated. While we know telling our stories can have positive benefits for our health, the change it can make for a reader can be just as strong. We invite you to share your story with our community.

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