Health: The write way to health

Dear diary, keeping you has had surprising benefits ...

Experts believe that the benefits of keeping a diary go much further than helping track highs and lows. There are a number of health benefits to be had from writing expressively.

There's nothing like putting pen to paper to instil you with a sense of optimism, anticipation and excitement about your goals or aspirations. Writing something down always makes it more real, more concrete than merely thinking it.

Benefits of a diary

Professor James Pennebaker, from the University of Texas in Austin, has carried out numerous experiments on the health benefits of writing expressively (nope, we're not talking about a chronological record of events ...). He has shown that regular writing can bolster the immune system, help you recover from traumatic events more successfully and ease stress and depression.

In his research, people who had survived traumatic events and wrote about their experiences for 20 minutes a day, three to four times a week, visited the doctor half as much as those who didn't write.

The journal writers demonstrated a more vigorous antibody response to bacteria and viruses and produced less cortisol, a stress hormone.

In another study - published in the Journal of the American Medical Association - sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis and asthma who wrote about life events they'd found highly stressful experienced a significant reduction in symptoms of their diseases. And it's not all just about "feeling better". Students who were asked to write about emotional topics in the journals showed improved grades in one research project, and absentee rates went down in a group of university staff members after they wrote about their emotions and experiences. Experts believe this may be because sitting down and writing about the thoughts and emotions cramming your head force you to reflect on them and put them in some kind of order, so that you master the situation.

Don't dwell on the past

But not all experts recommend dwelling on traumatic events. In fact, research at Glasgow Caledonian University found that people who were regular journal-keepers suffered more headaches, digestive problems and sleeplessness than non-writers - particularly those who consistently churned over their problems rather than opting for a single, cathartic outpouring. But there was no way of telling whether the journal-keepers simply had more traumas to cope with in the first place. And Pennebaker says, suppression of emotions, particularly negative ones, reduces the immune system response, while expressing them enhances it.

Your own journal

The key to successful dairy writing is to use it for your own needs. If you want to write about past hurts, disappointments or traumas, do so. If you'd rather write about the here and now, day-to-day dilemmas and frustrations, or your aspirations for the year ahead, do that. The beauty of a diary is that it is for you and you alone.

Which brings us to the question, should you read your own diary? Some experts believe that reading through what you've written is useful, helping you to spot repetitive patterns of thought or behaviour, and helping you make sense of situations and put them in perspective. But others feel that merely committing the words to paper is what is important - not reflecting on them afterwards.

Happy writing.

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- Hamilton News

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