Writing about emotional experiences has shown to:
- Be as effective as talking to a “therapist” (Donnelly & Murray, 1991; Murray, Lamnin, & Carver, 1989)
- Reduce the need to see a Doctor (Pennebaker, & Beall, 1986)
- Reduce chronic pain symptoms (Sarno, 2011)
- Improve academic performance (Cameron & Nicholls (1996); Krantz & Pennebaker(1996)
- Increase redeployment after redundancy from work (Spera, Buhrfeind, & Pennebaker, 1994)
- Reduce employee absenteeism (Francis & Pennebaker, 1992)
- Reduce distress, negative affect, or depression (Greenberg & Stone, 1992; Murray & Segal, 1994
Emotional Writing is NOT Journalling or Diary writing.
So those of you reading this, thinking “there is no way I am starting a diary” can breathe. This is quite different to that.
I have found this practice personally profound. It has helped me unpack problems, turn of my reactive brain and turn on my smart brain (some might call this emotional intelligence) and basically get more sh..it done!
The major benefit I have had is this practice resulted in me curing 10 years of daily neck and back pain. This really works.
The theory is that emotional writing can relax the nervous system which in turn reduces inflammation (inflammation causes pain and can lead to infection).
Like to try it?
There is some evidence that suggests writing for just 4 consecutive days for 20 minutes can produce some of the above effects, while others have argued that writing once a week over 4 weeks is equally effective. When I used this approach for my neck and back pain I decided to use the 30 day challenge approach, writing each day for 15 minutes. Yes some days that was a challenge, but gosh the amount of time and productivity I have received back with little or no pain, was well worth it!
You pick what works for you and let me know how you go.
- Pick a topic or issue that is causing you stress.
- Write for 15-20 minutes about this experience.
- If at any point you start to feel overwhelmed please stop. Come back to it another time and perhaps select a different memory or experience. Self-care very important here.
- Write for yourself only. This is not be shared with anyone. Therefore you are free to use whatever language or punctuation you desire.
- Destroy all entries. You don’t want any of this found accidentally by someone. I type in a blank word document and then delete it when I finish. There is actually something quite cleansing when I do this too!
4 day challenge:
Day 1 &2: Do as above. Day 3: Write experience as the child (or at the age of the experience). Day 4: Write the same experience in 3rd person and what you can take into the future with this new perspective.
Weekly or 30 day Challenge.
Day 1&2 as above. Remaining days allow for 3-5 minutes to write about your reflection of what you noticed about your entry. Is there a new perspective you didn’t have before?
If you would like to do a deeper dive on this topic check out this book by one of the key researchers James Pennebaker and his co-author James Evans.
I hope this information has been of value!
Warmly, Margie Ireland
Passionate about People and their work.