Expressive Writing is Good for your Health by Amy Scholten, MPH – As a health and medical writer, I had written a lot about human health and wellness. But I hadn’t written for my health. Then I met Thelma, a youthful retired writing instructor in her late 80s with a mischievous twinkle and indomitable spirit. Thelma encouraged me to join a writing group that met once a month at her house in New York. At first I didn’t see the point. “What should I write about and why?” I asked. “Write about your struggles, your dreams, your thoughts, your feelings! Write about who you are!” she replied emphatically. “As for why – you’ll discover that for yourself,” she assured me.
Reluctantly, I joined Thelma’s group, seeing it as little more than a chance to socialize. Through the months that ensued, we wrote and shared a rich collection of stories, poems and snippets of personal trials and triumphs. But this collaboration of shared writing and storytelling turned into more than I expected. I developed close emotional ties with the group—something that research has proven to be vital for our physical and mental health—and something that’s difficult to accomplish in our busy, transient, individualistic society.
Expressive writing (writing about stressful, emotional or traumatic events) offers many long-term benefits according to the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Among them are fewer stress-related visits to the doctor, improved immune, lung and liver function; reduced blood pressure, fewer days in the hospital, greater psychological well-being, improved working memory, social and behavioral improvements, improved occupational, academic and athletic performance; and more.
This year my friend Thelma turns 90. She attributes her good health and longevity in part to “needing to finish writing my life story. I need to understand. And I need my children to understand.” Since joining Thelma’s writing group, writing has helped me to clarify thoughts and feelings, solve problems, work through difficult emotions, make sense of challenging life transitions, and form deeper relationships with people and the earth. Self-reflective writing is an exciting discovery, a path to inner wisdom and a bridge to those who also need to tell their stories. Our lives are collections of stories that need to be shared.
Amy Scholten, MPH, is a health writer and wellness coach in Venice who helps people to write their life stories. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.