In the service of wellness I try many things… from wild healers to new rituals, homeopathy to art therapy. While I’ve forever been a proponent of handwriting in journals to improve mental clarity and open channels to greater creativity, clearing away problems and finding solutions, affirming your good and dreaming of the new in detail and with emotion… science has been finding with greater frequency that writing by hand can also have impressive health benefits, too!
Today, lot’s of life-changing writing is on my mind!
First, my sister Nicole shares some extensive research she’s done on writing and healing your physical body. And, a personal story from me rounds this off. Once you’re done reading this, you’ll want to grab a journal or stack of paper today and get started!
The idea of physically putting a pen to a piece of paper seems completely archaic given the information age we have entered. Ideas move fast, we move fast, and information is gathered fast. Many times just as swiftly as we access and garner information … we let this information slip away from our memory. Where as in the past cognitive retention was highly valued and integral to our daily lives, now accessibility and quickness of finding information has superseded memory retrieval. Communication is now in typed forms of emails and texts. We have calendars with alarm reminders, phone books and “note pads” all digitized on our computers and smart phones and ready to share with the cyber world with a click of a button. Why then, should we ever write anything down?
Journaling and free-writing our emotions has long been touted as a therapeutic way to relieve stress, anxiety and emotional trauma. Now, recent research suggests that writing rather than typing your emotions and experiences can also have physical health benefits.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association conducted by Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University found that journaling helped improve the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. He had some of his patients free write for 20 minutes each day about the most stressful experiences in their lives, while other patients were to write about neutral subjects. Those patients who wrote about stressful life events clinically improved more and deteriorated less. (you can read the study HERE)
Famed researcher James Pennebaker, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin believes that journaling can boost your immune system. Pennebaker studied the effects of writing on patients with HIV/AIDS. He asked 37 patients to write for 30 minutes in 4 separate sessions. Some patients were asked to write about stressful experiences and others were told to write about their daily schedules. Those patients who wrote about stressful life experiences had a higher CD4 lymphocyte count, as compared to controls, which is a direct indicator of a stronger immune system. (You can read more about the study HERE.)
And because journaling improves our immune system, it has also proven to facilitate physical healing. Elizabeth Broadbent, professor of medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand conducted a study on 49 healthy adults that needed to get a biopsy on their arm. These subjects had to write for 20 minutes 3 days in a row about either negative life events or simply their daily routine. Photographs were then taken each subsequent day of the healing biopsy. On the 11th day, 76% of those individuals that did expressive writing were fully healed, as opposed to 42% of the control group. (THIS is fascinating)
As for your memory….Writing information down with a pen and piece of paper, rather than typing the information can yield different retention levels of the information. A study conducted by Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA (more on this HERE) showed that students who wrote their notes down on paper learned more. They found that students who typed their lecture notes would capture the information verbatim. On the other hand, those who wrote down their notes reframed the information into their own words, facilitating the learning process and demonstrating an understanding of the material. Students who wrote down the material had a greater conceptual understanding of the material and were more able in applying the information, whereas typing the information lead to “shallow” processing.
Pretty amazing stuff, and all of it points to on thing:
Staying in contact with your emotions, even (and especially) the more painful ones, writing them out rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist, creates a very positive connection to healing. You can’t ignore, justify, make excuses for or otherwise deny reality and change it at the same time.
I once had a boyfriend who would explode into rages (didn’t last very long!) but I wound up developing insomnia as I keep heeding his “I’m sorrys” and developed so much resentment that I was overflowing. To stay, I tried to justify, I tried to make excuses and tried to see how I created these situations. I talked about it so much, so indignant and so confused, and spun in circles. I’d stay up 24 or close to 48 hours at a time, and it was too hard to ignore. The worst part was, I couldn’t write. Me, the queen of a journal, couldn’t touch a pen.
Somehow I knew I could not write and also stay where I was.
I started writing… I started crying… I started connecting to reality… and I healed my life quickly. I never lost sleep over it again, and I left that in my past!
Writing for yourself means you don’t have to worry about spelling, handwriting… you don’t have rules of grammar… you have you. You have you and that’s all you need. Connection and expression are healing forces.
For your mind, your creative life, your soul and your body… write, write, write!!!
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