Women who have passed the age 50 milestone have the benefit of 5 full decades of life to reflect on – the personal triumphs and losses, the moments shared with loved ones, the experiences that shaped who they are today. If you’ve ever poured your feelings into a private journal or an unsent letter, you likely know how good it feels to get your thoughts down on paper.
Expressive writing, also known as therapeutic writing, is the act of freely writing your deepest emotions, thoughts and feelings about a particular event or topic. Sometimes known as “scriptotherapy,” this type of writing is done continuously for a certain period of time (generally 15-20 minutes for three or four days) without worrying about sentence structure, spelling or grammar. Expressive writing is writing deeply from the heart—in other words, writing to express yourself.
Expressive writing is an acknowledged therapy with scientifically proven results from more than 200 academic research studies. Some of the positive effects are astonishing, such as:
- improvement in immune function through increase of white blood cells
- fewer doctor visits for patients with flu and upper respiratory conditions than those who wrote about ordinary events
- reduced errors in work or tasks
- improved lung function in asthmatics
- reduction in irritable bowel symptoms
- lessened distress from migraines
- increased rate of hiring for the unemployed
- and, of course, reduction of stress and anxiety
- and improved social relations and life enjoyment.
As evidenced, the physical and mental benefits of expressive writing can help a wide range of people—especially if you’ve gone through a painful life experience. Most of us, even the happiest, have some emotional events from the past that we may not have completely worked through (even if we aren’t consciously aware of it).
There are a variety of theories on why expressive writing works so well. Some researchers theorize that it turns painful life events from sensory experiences into a concrete narrative that our brains can then set aside.
We might imagine a traumatic life event as a cloud that’s always around us. We can’t grab ahold of it—and may not even know it’s still there. Therefore, a part of our brain must constantly to deal with it. Its presence impacts our working memory, which is responsible for helping us perform tasks. In short, we find ourselves weighed down.
Researchers believe that language and structure turn the untenable into something that can be stored appropriately. When we write expressively, that cloud becomes something solid that we can take hold of and put away. It can no longer use up our unconscious processing power.
Experts in therapeutic writing warn that some people may have difficulty articulating their emotions about a painful event and instead write as though they are crafting an academic article. The best way to write therapeutically is to write very personally about the event in question and examine one’s deepest thoughts and emotions. A person might describe the situation; how they felt when it occurred; how they feel about it now; how it affected their life; what they have learned, lost or gained as a result of it; and how it will impact their future. In this way, a person can write therapeutically and gain the positive effects of expressive writing.
Here are some tips:
- The greatest benefits may happen when you write about a secret or something of which you are ashamed.
- It’s okay to feel a little sad afterward, just as you might feel after reading a sad book or watching an emotional movie.
- You can write freehand on paper, type on a computer or use an online memory platform like JamBios.
- You do not need to share your writing. You can even throw it away or delete it after you’ve written it.
(A word of caution: if you are extremely distressed, and writing about a particular topic will trigger an acute response requiring hospitalization, you should not do so—or stop immediately.)
Whether you call it expressive writing, therapeutic writing or scriptotherapy, writing out your deepest thoughts and emotions can be good for not only the mind, but also the body. If you’re interested in enjoying the benefits of expressing yourself through writing, take 15-20 minutes today to sit down and remember—and let the feelings flow.