The Stress-Writing-Wellness Connection

Feb 21, 2020

It is well documented that on-going, chronic stress can cause serious health problems. Cardiovascular disease, obesity and eating disorders, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems like GERD and colitis are just a few of the diseases worsened by stress, let alone the emotional impact it may have. Documented research also reveals that writing can improve stress-related health issues and even reverse the negative impact of stress on your body. It may be hard to believe that the simple act of putting pen to paper can make such a difference, but it’s true. Let’s look at what the research shows us about the stress-wellness-writing connection.

Strong emotions accompany stress

When life is out of balance, it creates stress. Just sitting in traffic watching the minutes tick by can cause a stress response, flooding the body with adrenaline and cortisol, two of the major stress hormones. Your heart may race, your breath quickens and your muscles tense. You may feel anger, frustration, anxiety. 

Consider other scenarios. You feel stuck with your life and need a change, but what change?? Or, you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer or diabetes or any other number of life-threatening diseases. Or perhaps you’ve had a major life change — a loved one just died, or you’ve recently changed jobs, retired, moved and are at a loss for what to do with yourself. Whatever the situation, your stress is off the chart! You may feel like your emotions are running high and the wind has been knocked out of you. Then again, you may not feel anything, yet the unconscious undercurrent of stress is harming your health!

Expressive writing to the rescue!

Research suggests expressive writing helps people manage their emotions and learn from negative experiences. Psychologists James Pennebaker, PhD, of the University of Texas, Austin, and Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University, have proven writing about a stressful event and linking it to your emotions will boost immune functioning. Patients who write expressively about their cancer, asthma, arthritis or heart condition, for example, generally feel better and have a stronger immune response than those who don’t write. Pennebaker and Smyth attribute the effectiveness of writing to how patients interpret their experience and link it to their emotions. They add that the true healing power of writing comes from understanding and learning from your situation and emotions. 

Affirmative writing boosts self-esteem

Another type of writing that can benefit your health and wellness is Affirmative writing. It works to reframe negative beliefs into positive statements that make you more receptive to change. For example, the positive statement “I listen to my body and pay attention to what it is telling me” is much more helpful than the negative belief “Ever since my heart attack, I’m afraid my body will betray me.” Research by Claude Steele, social psychologist and founder of self-affirmation theory, shows that our predominant thoughts influence our behavior and attitude, and control our actions and reactions. If we want to change our life for the better, we need to change or replace the negative, self-defeating thoughts that normally occupy our minds and envision a new future. This can be realized by creating a self-affirmation that focuses on our values, leading to a more receptive state of thinking and being. 

Action-Scripting gives us back our lives

Action-scripting is where the rubber meets the road! To realize the future state of wellness you’ve identified in your affirmation, you need to take action by setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Relevant and Timely (SMART). Dr. Edwin Locke was the first to research the link between goal-setting and motivation. He proved specific and challenging goals lead to better job performance than vague or easy goals. Fast forward to today’s neuroscientific research that shows when you write down your goals, several things happen. Encoding occurs which is a biological process by which the things we perceive travel to our brain’s hippocampus where they’re analyzed. Our brain then decides what gets stored in our long-term memory and, in turn, what gets discarded. Also, things take place in the corpus callosum area of the brain, through which the imaginative right side and literal left side connect ‘electrically’ and then throughout our bodies via our spinal columns. By writing, the power of the left and right hemisphere connection results in a transformative message being sent to every cell in our body, saying ‘I want this, and I mean it.’ By writing things down, what we need and want is optimized in our bodies to be acted on so we can make it happen. By writing your goals, you sharpen your vision and reinforce any action plan you create. Multiple studies in goal-setting prove specific goals that are written are motivating and energizing. They give you a sense of purpose and support behavior change.    

Reflective writing confirms readiness

Before you take steps to change a behavior or build a new wellness habit, it’s important to step back for a moment and reflect. Remember why you’re feeling stressed, how you’d prefer to live your life, and what you’re planning to do about it. Reflective writing supports learning from experience. When you write reflectively, you have the opportunity to examine and question, express doubts and test your level of commitment. Research indicates that reflective writing contributes to cognitive development, enables creative and unique connections to be made between disparate sets of information, and contributes to new perspectives. Reflective writing is an important last step in a wellness journey as this is your honest assessment of your willingness to go forward. 

The Write to Be Well ™ method     

The Write to Be Well ™ method integrates these four powerful writing forms into one dynamic system to help you Get Well, Be Well, and Stay Well! The emerging agreement among researchers is that the key to writing’s effectiveness is the way people use it to interpret their experiences, understand their emotions, evaluate their goals and create an action plan to move them toward their desired state of wellness. The Get Well Project has created this easy, four-step method to empower you to reduce your stress and enhance your wellness with merely the stroke of a pen! Whether your situation is as big as moving a mountain or as small as moving a small stone, GO FOR IT!