How Personal Writing Can Positively Affect Mental Health
When I write, I aim to get my work published and share my stories with others, hoping that it could leave an impact of some kind. If I can touch at least one person with my writing, I deem the whole process worth it.
“If I can string words together to explain life, in some small and meaningless way, that’s what I feel most authentic doing,” Abby Norman wrote in her essay on Medium. “Even if it’s nothing profound, even if it’s just a good joke — if someone reads the words they need for a moment, that’s enough.”
That sentiment instantly resonated.
However, if I were to ask myself how my subject matters originate, I’d have to conclude that I’m writing on X, Y, or Z because it helps me navigate personal matters, too. Maybe I’m working out a thought or theory in my head; maybe I’m exploring a particular experience, in depth, seeking a cathartic release. And maybe I want to see where my words lead. Perhaps written expression will extricate answers that will continue to shape my life story.
Research has recently shown that writing and editing our own personal stories leads to happiness. Personal writing allows introspection to shine a light on who we are, where we’re going, what problems we’re encountering, how to move forward, and in essence, how to cope.
Tara Parker-Pope’s New York Times piece correlates personal writing with behavioral changes and happiness.
“The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves,” she said. “But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.”
Several studies have been conducted. In one study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, college freshmen at Duke University (who were worried about their academic status and overall adjustment to college) were placed in intervention and control groups. Students in the intervention group were told that it’s common to have a hard time freshman year. They watched videos of college juniors and seniors who spoke about their academic improvement as they adjusted to school.
Long-term results were very interesting. Students in the intervention group who were prompted to change their personal stories improved their grade point average and were less likely to drop out of school. Students in the control group did not fare as well.
“When you get to that confrontation of truth with what matters to you, it creates the greatest opportunity for change,” Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute, said.
In another study, 120 married couples were asked to write about a conflict as a “neutral observer.” Those who wrote narratives about their issues demonstrated improvement in marital happiness.
Since I do experiment with personal narrative writing, I was intrigued by the studies that illuminate its positive effects, that portray its ability to lift our spirits, employ coping endeavors and guide us to various truths.
I write with the desire to share, but I also write to obtain clarity. Writing can foster self-reflection, which in turn can serve as an effective mechanism to resolve problems.
Suval, L. (2018). How Personal Writing Can Positively Affect Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 8, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-personal-writing-can-positively-affect-mental-health/