As anyone with a personal blog or private journal can attest, writing about your life and getting frustrations off your chest can be very therapeutic. Now, researchers are investigating whether writing and then re-writing a personal story can also have a measurable impact on stress.
Several studies have been structured to put “personal narratives” to the test, according to The New York Times. Personal narratives are the way people tell their own stories in their heads, and research suggests that those stories have a big impact on how the brain interprets experiences. Exploring those stories through writing, and then editing those stories, may be able to help shake up old patterns.
For example, one study asked married couples to take a new approach to an argument:
Another writing study asked married couples to write about a conflict as a neutral observer. Among 120 couples, those who explored their problems through writing showed greater improvement in marital happiness than those who did not write about their problems.
“These writing interventions can really nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle that reinforces itself,” said Timothy D. Wilson, a University of Virginia psychology professor and lead author of the Duke study.
When Natasha McCarthy, a guest blogger and person with Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease, started writing about Parkinson’s soon after her diagnosis, she hadn’t planned on sharing it with anyone. She finds typing to be easier than holding a pen to write, but still saw her blog as private diary.
“When I would finish a post it felt like an odd sense of relief that I was no longer holding it inside, despite that it wasn't for anyone to read other than myself,” she says.
She says she doesn’t edit the reality of the event she’s describing, but often changes the emotional reactions she describes, especially after stepping away from the post and reading it again later. “I write it and leave it, going back to it sometimes a week later to review it to see if I'm still feeling the same way or if perhaps I was thinking about it more negatively than it really needs to be thought of," she says.
After a few months, she decided to share her blog online hoping to connect with other people with Young-Onset PD with whom she could talk about raising a family and other challenges.
“I have had the pleasure of ‘meeting’ many others in my age range and with the same challenges that I have all over the world,” Natasha says.
If you’re interested in trying out the therapeutic benefits of writing, anyone can start a blog for free using sites like Wordpress and Blogger, or simply write or type up a personal document on your computer. If you’re part of a support group, suggest including time to write or share pieces with each other.
"To sit down and reflect on the steps you're taking to try and maintain your current quality of life and write about it can help your mindset and emotions come together in a more focused, positive way," says Natasha. "And to be able to look back on those words later can help keep things in perspective as you look ahead."