"Previously, virtually no one had ever encouraged them to write about the most significant experiences in their lives. Nevertheless, they went into their cubicles and poured their hearts out...Many students came out of their writing rooms in tears. Clearly it was an emotionally trying experience for them. But they kept coming back. And, by the last day of the experiment, most reported that the experience had been profoundly important for them."
When Pennebaker tracked these students, he found that those in the expressive writing group made 43 percent fewer visits to doctors for illness than the control group who wrote about "superficial topics."
While that first study focused almost solely on visits to physicians, subsequent studies noted other changes. Some were conducted by Pennebaker and some by other researchers, but what they found follows:
- "Emotional writing is associated with general enhancement of the immune system."
- Emotional writing is associated with better lung function among asthma patients and lower pain and disease severity among arthritis suffers, higher white cell count among AIDS patients, and less sleep disturbance among patients with metastatic cancer.
- "While people are talking or writing about traumas, they often show immediate signs of reduced stress."
- "Immediately after writing about traumatic topics, people often feel worse." And Pennebaker says that is normal. But, "the long-term effects are are surely worth the momentary sadness. People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative after writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination, and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals."
While I had promised to discuss how all this relates to my bipolarity, I'll save that for tomorrow. (to be continued)