The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions

Did you know that writing about your past experiences can actually improve your current health? Perhaps not all stories are magic bullets for healing, but writing about distressing events has demonstrable benefits, as documented by James W. Pennebaker, PhD in his book OPENING UP: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions.
This report is a summary for executives, combining a 249-page book into a few sentences.

Dr. Pennebaker is Professor of Psychology and a researcher at the University of Texas. He formulates theories about health and tests them by conducting experiments using his many undergraduate students.

For this book, the premise is that holding back or inhibiting ones frustrations is work and affects short-term biological changes and long-term health and thinking abilities.

To test the theory, students performed various tasks and their vitals were measured before, after, in six weeks and after five years. Tests included blood pressure, heart rate, skin conductivity, perspiration, mouth dryness, brain waves and doctor visits. In one of the definitive studies, he assigned students at random to one of four groups. One group talked with classmates about random meaningless events. Another discussed anxieties, frustrations and problems. A third wrote, in a private room, about anxieties, frustrations and problems. The last group discussed and wrote about their unresolved issues.

After analyzing the results. Dr. Pennebaker concludes that verbalizing your frustrations, anxieties and concerns results in improved mental and physical health. Writing about these unresolved issues results in even more improvement. The most improvement came from discussion with friends and writing about the issues. He states that writing is a slower process, requires analysis, organization and resolution. When confronted, a problem is put into perspective, analyzed and resolved. Once closure is achieved, the issue is put out of mind and no longer drains mental or physical health. The effect is similar to putting data from a hard drive onto a disk and then filing the disk away.

The conclusion, for us, is that confronting our problems in writing class and writing about them will improve both our mental and physical health.
Thanks to Paul for the excellent summary. If any of you readers have doubts about writing certain stories, perhaps this news will be the nudge you need to get them on paper and share them with a trusted friend or relative. What have you got to lose but worry, stress and a few related afflictions?

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal

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