Recently JAMA published a trial of a “get it off your chest” writing exercise. Seventy-one patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis were randomized to write about the most stressful experience they had ever had or about their plans for the day for three separate 20 minute periods over a few days. The study apparently showed a significant improvement in standard measures of disease severity in both conditions four months later (Greenhalgh).
What happens when you have nobody to confide in? What happens when you cannot express in words what you are feeling or thinking because you are too ashamed or afraid of judgement? Maybe you just don’t know what you are feeling. What can you possibly do?
For this, some people have something like a professional psychiatrist/psychologist to confide in and listen to their fears, ambitions, wants and insecurities. At what cost? Some psychiatrists can cost up to $1,000 per hour and most of the time people feel better just by talking and getting out their frustrations.
What are Friends For?
Our friends are usually there for us when we need someone to talk to, if we are lucky enough to have a few good friends, but it may not be healthy if we are always calling or texting them to vent. This can be the ruiner of most relationships and friendships because one side is getting emotional comfort while the other is getting drained. Sometimes the other side may not tell you but instead, slowly disconnect because it feels exhausting to be around.
So what can we do if we can’t afford to go to a psychologist and do not want to be a leech off of our friend’s good energy?
How can Writing Help?
Since getting out our thoughts usually helps us feel instantly better and process our emotions before we react, I would say that writing is a pretty valuable resource. If we start with phrases like “ I feel ____ when _____ happens” we don’t blame and try to push off the problem on another entity, which will not solve the problem.
If we get into a fight or are dealing with past traumas, we can write about what we feel and we are able to really slow down process, and organize information instead of just reacting to it or taking the bits and pieces that heat us up. When we write, we have a little voice in our head that reads back to us and we can almost hear ourselves speaking in our mind which opens up a view of our thought process and the reality of the situation. If you don’t like what you see or what you hear, you can write down that you don’t like it. Some people think this is the closest thing to getting to know that little voice inside your head or what some people would call the higher consciousness.
Most of the time we know what we need to do in order to solve our problems, but we mentally try to avoid it. Not all of us, but a lot of us. It is very easy to mentally avoid our problems because all we have to do is think about something else. We can also think about our problems so much, we are not able to function and move on with the actions needed to solve them. When we write, we look straight at the words as we watch them unravel and we face it as a reflection of our true selves in structure, instead of fleeting thoughts that repeat themselves. Writing can be a way to regain control of your power and influence the way you think by tapping into the part of your brain that knows what’s good for you and really getting down to business on what needs to be done. One may be surprised to find they are able to write down the steps they need to take to solve a major problem or to feel better and become motivated.
Writing can be a way to regain control of your power and influence the way you think by tapping into the part of your brain that knows what’s good for you and really getting down to business on what needs to be done. One may be surprised to find they are able to write down the steps they need to take to solve a major problem or to feel better and become motivated.
Is it the Cure all for Everything?
Scientists have not been able to produce solid evidence that a cure all for everything exists in one single action. Writing may not help you understand things that you have no prior knowledge about, but in the case where there is a lesson to be learned and you keep making the same mistake over and over again, writing down an action plan for yourself or a pep talk may just be what you need to take action. After all, most of us are not as influenced by others as we are ourselves.
Matthew McConaughey, in accepting his award for best actor, gave a speech that introduced the relationship he had with himself to get him where he is today.
“….And to my hero. That’s who I chase. Now when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say “who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says “who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “not even close. No, no, no.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.” So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”
Turning the Negatives into Positives
The first thing to do when you find everything you have just put down on paper to be negative? Turn it into a positive, literally. If it is a negative sentence, take out the word bad, and insert the word good. If you don’t have anything good to say then make something up that you don’t believe..within reason of course. Something good and something obtainable or something that you are struggling with such as, “I am good at remembering things.” If you write it down, you may consciously begin to think about remembering things and therefore pay more attention to taking action to remember things when you leave or writing lists to make sure you don’t forget.”
There is no bad writing unless it is used to hurt you or someone else or used to deceive an innocent population. If anyone can think of other ways in which writing can be bad that I have not mentioned, feel free to comment.
Greenhalgh T. Writing as therapy : Effects on immune mediated illness need substantiation in independent studies . BMJ : British Medical Journal. 1999;319(7205):270-271.