Using Writing to Heal

It’ll come as no surprise to you that writing and healing go hand-in-hand. Therapists have encouraged their patients to journal for decades to overcome traumas and stresses. Modern research has even proven journaling can provide relief to people battling life-threatening diseases. According to studies conducted by research-psychologists Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University, and James Pennebaker, PhD. of the University of Texas at Austin, writing about stress and emotions can improve immune functioning in patients with arthritis, asthma, and HIV / AIDS. 

Researchers concluded that the reason why writing is so effective boils down to the particular way people interpret their experiences and the words that they choose to express those events. Venting emotions, even through writing or talking, relieves anxiety and stress, which in turn improves health. The benefits of writing are similar to a verbal guided exploration. Negative thoughts actually compromise or weaken the immune system. The human body and mind are deeply interconnected, and modern thought is beginning to view the body as an extension of the mind instead of something separate and distinct. Words and internal language affect humans on a psychosomatic level. For instance, there’s an abundance of research that clearly proves the link between reading and physical and emotional arousal. Another important factor in the therapeutic aspect of writing is the subject matter itself. Psychology researcher Susan Lutgendorf, PhD, of the University of Iowa conducted a study that shows that reliving upsetting events through writing without trying to derive meaning from them, can result in worsened health. Conversely, even negative events, if framed by meaning and given a purpose, can reduce the impact of the trauma around the memory. 

The human body and mind are remarkably adaptive, and there is ample evidence to also suggest that DNA in many mammals is altered by events that occur during their life. In fact, this alteration occurs to such an extent that it can even affect the preferences and fears of the offspring (see transgenerational epigenetic inheritance). Every element of the subconscious — what you store, what you repress — is curated for your survival. However, writing is a way of taking control of the curation process and optimizing your thoughts. 

As you become a better writer, you will also develop a sharper sense of self-curation and objectivity. A writer can view their own life and the life of others in third-person from an outside perspective. As the author creates, they are forced to empathize with their characters and enhance their compassion towards them, which eventually helps the author treat him or herself with that same level of compassion and outside objectivity. Developing characters, if done empathetically, helps you develop your own character. 

When I wrote “Falling Up in The City of Angels,” I categorized it as fiction, but the truth is, the book is essentially a memoir of lostness and navigating dreams, excitement, and sorrow. In the end, it’s your decision to create meaning. Conventional wisdom posits that everything happens for a reason. I respectfully disagree. However, through writing you can find meaning, unpack your baggage, and heal one word at a time.

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