How Writing Heals Wounds — Of Both the Mind and Body

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Talking about difficult experiences can be a way of easing the emotional pain of trauma, but the latest research shows that expressing emotions in words can also speed physical healing.

The study is the latest delving into the mind-body connection to suggest that expressing emotions about a traumatic experience in a coherent way may be important to not just mental but physical health as well. It showed that the calming effect of writing can cut physical wound healing time nearly in half.

Researchers led by Elizabeth Broadbent, a senior lecturer in health psychology at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, studied 49 healthy senior citizens, aged 64 to 97.  For three days, half were assigned to write for 20 minutes a day about the most traumatic event they had experienced, and were encouraged to be as open and candid as they could about exactly what they felt and thought at the time. If possible, they were also asked to share thoughts or emotions that they had never expressed to others about what they had undergone.

The other participants wrote for the same duration about their plans for the next day, avoiding mentioning their feelings, opinions or beliefs. Two weeks after the first day of writing, researchers took small skin biopsies, under local anesthesia, that left a wound on the arms of all participants.  The skin tissue was used for another study.

A week later, Broadbent and her colleagues started photographing the wounds every three to five days until they were completely healed.  Eleven days after the biopsy, 76% of the group that had written about trauma had fully healed while only 42% of the other group had.

MORE: How Child Abuse Primes the Brain for Future Mental Illness

“This is the first study to show that writing about personally distressing events can speed wound healing in [an older] population that is at risk of poor healing,” says Broadbent.

It’s not the first, however, to reveal the intriguing connection between state-of-mind and physical health. In previous studies, this type of emotionally expressive writing, as opposed to writing on neutral topics, reduced viral load in HIV-positive patients and increased their levels of virus-fighting immune cells. The practice also increased the effectiveness of the hepatitis B vaccination by increasing antibody levels generated by the vaccine and speeding wound healing in young men.

But in terms of psychological health, the results are more conflicting. A recent study found that writing about disturbing combat experiences may improve marital satisfaction among soldiers returning home from war zones while another paper in which patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wrote about their difficult experiences did not find that the practice reduced symptoms. Putting emotions down in words did, however, improve mood and reduce levels of stress hormone  in these patients.

One way that writing about distressing events could give the body a boost is by promoting sleep. “We found that people who got at least seven hours of sleep most nights had faster healing than those who got less sleep,” Broadbent says. Sleep deprivation can lower levels of growth hormone, which is important for repairing injuries. And writing about their traumatic experiences also seemed to help participants to actually get more sleep.  “Many people who have written about their negative experiences report that it allowed them to gain greater insight into what happened and to put the event into perspective,” says Koschwanez, “This might reduce the extent to which the event troubles them and possibly improve their sleep.”

The writing may also help the body by reducing stress; less anxiety means fewer stress hormones, which can interfere with chemicals needed for wound healing. While Broadbent’s study did not find such a link, it’s possible the researchers were not evaluating the right anxiety measures.  “It might be that our perceived stress questionnaire was not assessing the right type or duration of stress,” says Heidi Koschwanez, a study co-author and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Auckland.

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It’s also possible that emotional writing is not helpful for everyone. In one study published last month, when people who typically are stoic wrote about their worst trauma, their anxiety actually increased.  Those who were accustomed to being emotionally open, however, showed a drop in worry measures. That suggests that different people may have different ways of coping with traumatic events, and that writing may be an effective outlet for those who are normally more expressive, while pushing people to express feelings when they are not inclined to do so can actually increase risk for PTSD.

For those who do experience relief from expressing their emotions, however, writing may become an important part of helping them to recover —both in mind and in body— from difficult situations.

11 comments
quando25
quando25

This is a great article and clearly expresses the intimate link between the mind body connection. I thought the study that was performed observing the healing time differences between the 2 group was quite remarkable and clearly illustrates the need for a greater level recognition from our modern medical system about how releasing trauma and negative emotions are fundamental to proper healing... I found this article very revealing and a very thought provoking.

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Benwpatton
Benwpatton

A friend just forwarded this wonderful article to me. I was particularly struck by the first section on writing to heal emotional and physical wounds.  I work in a related area that may be of interest to the author and readers: filmmaking as a tool for healing, in particular of emotional wounds resulting from war trauma.  

 The initiative is called I WAS THERE.  We work with veterans recovering at Army Warrior Transition Units and elsewhere - and this article only confirms the self-evident value of writing, telling, sharing - and in this case FILMING your story. It's all about creating narrative - using all the inovative tools available using this most robust and inherently collaborative medium. We are simply replacing a pen or keyboard with a camera.  

You can find examples of the work on our website, www.iwastherefilms.org.  Congratulations to Ms. Szalavitz on an inspiring and necessary article. 

 BEN PATTON, Founder, The Patton Veterans Project, NYC.


Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2013/07/13/how-writing-heals-wounds-of-both-the-mind-and-body/#ixzz2aUjvmjuU

AmyahLabrèche-Docq
AmyahLabrèche-Docq

I am a published author and give also courses in memoirs and journalling. I teach my friends and students to write a journal. At the beginning, they look at me in a weird way but if, each days, they write even few words about their day and... when a traumatic or disturbing event happen, they write the event, their emotions of the moment, write to the person who hurt them (not to be send of course, just to "vent", but to put everything on paper help greatly), etc... they deal with the problem in a completely different way and they are way calmer, less emotional in the physical dealing with the problem and find a better solution or way out of the problem. 

To my point of view, of course writing don't solve all the problems but it helps people to deal with problems on a daily basis. As for PTSD, I am a victim of a double assault followed by death threats for 3 years and had a lot of problems dealing with this. I am a "strong" woman, dammit, I can't let this influence my life ;) but my mind and body had a different opinion and I was very sick for 4 years. Hey yes, I am stoic... dangerous world out there if you show your emotions... that is the way I was raised and I had to do this to survive but I am now writing my emotions mixing ink and tears and sobs... a little at the time... and it helps a lot...

The problem with the stoic is that they don't write pure emotion, they filter what to say, what to write, what they allow themselves to think and let go but if they finally give up and really let go... then they can do a lot of progress. :)

Like everything, writing help at different levels but it always brings something to the writer and this is important

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

CREATIVE LIVING AWARENESS (CLA) WELFARE:

 //  Talking about difficult experiences can be a way of easing the emotional pain of trauma, but the latest research shows that expressing emotions in words can also speed physical healing. ......//

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2013/07/13/how-writing-heals-wounds-of-both-the-mind-and-body/#ixzz2Z21zQa2g

                                                   ___________________
Writing down something emotionally regarding one's own personal pain, ailment or else such can help release one's pain etc. and thus one can be healed out of his or wounds to great extent, as per my personal observational experience.

- A.R.Shams's Reflection - Series of Press / Online Publications - Moral Messages for humanities Worldwide

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

//  Talking about difficult experiences can be a way of easing the emotional pain of trauma, but the latest research shows that expressing emotions in words can also speed physical healing. ......//


Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2013/07/13/how-writing-heals-wounds-of-both-the-mind-and-body/#ixzz2Z21zQa2g

                                                 ___________________

Writing down something emotionally regarding one's own personal pain, ailment or else such can help release one's pain etc. and thus one can be healed out of his or injury to great extent, as per my personal observational experience.

 

- A.R.Shams's Reflection - Series of Press / Online Publications - Moral Messages for humanities Worldwide

 

theirmind
theirmind

Unable to speak, write it down can indeed make you more calmly.

KiyotaAtsushi
KiyotaAtsushi

Thank you. As a medical social worker, I could see those who spoke up how they felt in their most difficult times also could find the way to cure themselves.

Egylady93
Egylady93

I totally agree to this study results, human beings should be expressive and not reserved to far extents.


bojimbo26
bojimbo26

The best healing is sleep ; which is why some patient(s) is/are put into a coma .

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

@bojimbo26  

That needs sound sleep to get healed of wounds etc., whereas, wring practice applying mind and hand does better healing than sleep alone to great extent, as per my observational experience.