Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Writing Has Mental and Physical Health Benefits

Haven't all those of us who write journals, blogs, articles, reviews, stories, books, what-have-you always known that writing is pleasurable and the feeling of satisfaction lasts beyond the immediate? Now, it's been found that the act of writing has long term health benefits, mental and physical.

If you were involved in a traumatic or stressful life event or illness, writing about it allows you to heal faster and less painfully. Asthma sufferers have fewer attacks, AIDS patients have higher T-cell counts, physical wounds heal faster, people sleep better, immune systems strengthen, and so on.

"James W. Pennebaker believes this act of expressive writing allows people to take a step back and evaluate their lives. Instead of obsessing unhealthily over an event, they can focus on moving forward. By doing so, stress levels go down and health correspondingly goes up."

Every one can do it, according to Pennybaker. You don't have to be a serious novelist or a book critic. Journal. Write a short paragraph every day.

When I was making my new year's goals in December 2013, I decided to start a 365 Days of Positivity Journal. I started on January 1 and so far I have had an unbroken record. I maintain an online journal, and every day so far, I have posted a short paragraph (and sometimes, many long paragraphs) on something good that happened that day. It hasn't always been something profound, and it hasn't always been something that affected me directly, other than the joy I received from watching something wonderful happen to someone I'm really close to. But it has always been something positive.

As I did it week after week, I started to realize that I was looking for things to be delighted in during my days. I'd make mental notes to type it up when something good happened. It put me in the moment, appreciating what was happening to me.

Overall, I have found that it has made me resilient, in that, when things aren't so hot, I'm not down in the dumps for long. Well, because even on the worst days, something good happens every day.

When you're willing to appreciate even the mundane, it takes the pressure off to BE a certain way. You write about it as it happens and the way it happens. There's no prize for it to be an earth-shattering moment. I have half a dozen entries that say that today was a day when nothing bad happened. That routine day was a good day in my book. I have appreciated sunsets, my baby's belly laughs, a good book, a delicious meal cooked by someone else, work successes, bears visiting my backyard (yes, really! my backyard backs into a protected forest, so we've had bears, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, deer, raccoons, and other small critters visiting regularly—I feel like I'm the one in the zoo and they're coming to look at me), and so on.

Something good, no matter how miniscule, or sometimes the lack of something bad, happens every single day. And I'm grateful for it.