If you’re a writer, it may come as no surprise to you that writing is like gifting your brain with a neural massage. Besides enhancing your memory and problem-solving skills, picking up the mighty pen can actually help fight off symptoms of depression and encourage feelings of well-being. But what about the physical benefits? Can pumping lead and ink actually lead to a healthier body?
The answer is yes! In fact, numerous studies have shown that writing—particularly expressive writing, though copywriting has some health benefits as well—can actually improve immune function, organ function, and more!
In 2016, PsychCentral.com published an article titled “The Health Benefits of Journaling.” While the article mostly focuses on the mental benefits of writing (it “[clarifies] your thoughts and feelings,” helps you to “know yourself better,” “[reduces] stress,” helps you “solve problems more effectively,” and “resolve disagreements with others”), the study it pulls from points to some real benefits for the body!
Researcher and psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker from the University of Texas believes that writing can enhance immune function. Working with HIV/AIDS patients, Pennebaker found that “patients who wrote about life experiences measured higher on CD4 lymphocyte counts—a gauge of immune functioning—than did controls.” What this tells us is that writing about stress helps us let go of it, which in turn, helps us fight off disease and other illnesses.
One study conducted by Dr. Joshua Smyth of Syracuse University, published in Journal of the American Medical Association, found similar results. As APA.org reports, in the study, Smyth had seventy-one asthma and arthritis patients write for twenty minutes a day, three consecutive days a week, about “the most stressful event of their lives.” Another thirty-seven patients wrote about regular daily activities. After four months, test results showed that the seventy-one patients who had written about their stress had “improved more and deteriorated less” than the control group (the group of thirty-seven).
Now, according to the British journal Advances in Pediatric Treatment, expressive writing (writing about a traumatic or emotional experience) can have some incredible long-term effects, including “reduced blood pressure, improved lung function, improved liver function,” and “improved mood.” This resulted in fewer hospitalizations due to stress, as well as better attendance at work and even improved grades and athletic performance.
If that sounds like a wide circle of healing, that’s because it is! A variety of studies have gone on to show physical improvements in a large number of patients suffering from all sorts of debilitating problems—from chronic pain to cystic fibrosis to poor sleep—and their progress is linked to expressive writing.
At this point, you may be thinking, “Okay, Bill Nye, but my writing is about dragons and knights—not my own experiences.” That’s fine! The magic of all this (or rather the scientific awesomeness) is that the very act of writing can have a physical impact upon the body, as well as the mind. Remember how I said even copywriting can help? Why not take a look at this article by NeuroRelay.com? According to them, copywriting can be just as beneficial to the mind as meditation: “Your breathing slows down and you get into a ‘zone’ where words flow freely from your head. This can make stream of consciousness writing a very effective method for de-stressing.”
So whether you’re copywriting for BodyBuilding.com or building up your body with a daily journal exercise, the good news is, you’re doing a body good. In fact, if you’re looking for the cure to the common cold, why not start with the diary you keep under the mattress?
A few tips for expressive writing:
Conduct your expressive writing in a private, comfortable space without distractions.
Try to write for three to four consecutive days each week.
Set aside time in your schedule to make this a priority, and remember it takes 21 days to form a habit. After that, the urge to sit down to write should come more naturally.
Write for 20 minutes each day, followed by 10 minutes of meditation.
Do not feel limited by structure—write in whatever format makes the most sense to you.
Write about your emotions and thoughts. Feel free to explore your relationships (romantic or otherwise) in reference to those emotions and thoughts. Let your writing explore your past, present, and future—who you are and who you would like to be. Don’t worry if your writing stays on one topic for some time. Move on to other topics at your own pace.
Bridget Murray, “Writing to Heal,” American Psychological Association 33, no. 6 (June 2002).
“How Does Writing Affect Your Brain?” NeuroRelay, August 7, 2013.
Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, “Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing,” Advances in Pediatric Treatment 11 (April 2005).
Maud Purcell, “The Health Benefits of Journaling,” Psych Central, July 17, 2016.