Blog Post by – Steve Tanner, PathwaysToIntegration.com

In 1997 James W Pennebaker Phd (Regents Centennial Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas, Austin) published his book Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expression Emotions by Guilford Press. In this book he explored the health benefits of expressing emotions in constructive ways. In 2016 along with Joshua M. Smyth Phd Dr Pennebaker published another book Opening Up by Writing it Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain. In this book Dr. Pennebaker explains how experiments were conducted in the University of Texas where students were invited to describe in as much detail as possible a traumatic event or negative memories – and then to describe their emotions about that event. Each writing session was no more than about 15 minutes. They recorded basic biometic markers before and after the writing sessions. For example. they found that students’ blood pressure improved. The conclusion was that opening up about emotions using writing improved these health markers. Students also reported that their ability to concentrate improved and that they felt happier overall.

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In 2018 a study was published in the British Journal of Health Psychology the title was The physical and psychological health benefits of positive emotional writing: Investigating the moderating role of Type D (distressed) personality. The Results of the study were “Participants in the positive emotional writing condition showed significantly greater reductions in (1) state anxiety and (2) both trait anxiety and perceived stress over the 4‐week follow‐up period, compared to the control group. While these effects were not moderated by Type D personality, a decrease in trait anxiety was particularly evident in participants who reported both high levels of social inhibition and low negative affectivity. Linguistic analysis of the writing diaries showed that Type D personality was positively associated with swear word use, but not any other linguistic categories.” The study can be found using this link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bjhp.12320 . This study concludes that releasing emotions in writing helps reduce and alleviate anxiety.

The point is that simple writing exercises are being recognized as another tool to help people reduce anxiety and stress from traumas.

Who knew that something we learned by the 3rd grade could be such a powerful ally in our search for self-regulation for our emotions and our nervous systems. One of the great things about writing is that it can remain private. Nobody ever needs to know what you put on paper. Consequently, when a person can be confident that they can write in privacy they can have the freedom to be more honest. They can say on paper what they never felt they were safe to say before. They can say what really happened. They can say what they really felt about what happened. By doing so, according to the studies cited above, they are able to relieve anxiety and stress, concentrate better, have improved health and have a greater sense of well-being. The result is greater nervous-system regulation and greater possibility for emotional integration.

Two more great examples of people who have found relief from past traumas are in the books below. I encourage reading these books – particularly the book from Jen Cross.

Anyone wishing to use writing can do so but if you are under the care of a mental health professional please consult with them first.

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