Writing about our emotions can help close wounds
From the primitive sounds and gestures emitted by the Homo habilis even the complex languages developed by the Homo sapiens, the human being has the ability to carry everything that happens in his head to the outside through various sounds to which a meaning has been assigned.
Through language, we can talk about things that happened years ago, plan an event for a month or simply communicate our feelings and concerns to a friend.
But this ability to externalize our thoughts is not limited to language, but ratherand thanks to various technologies we can record our cognitions in the environment . From the cave paintings in which our Paleolithic ancestors represented their lives and customs, going through the writing of books or of this same article, until the sending of a WhatsApp message, the capacity of symbolic representation allows us to communicate our thoughts and that everything whoever has access to the medium of presentation of these can come into contact with what we thought at that time.
The psychological effects of writing
But the effects of writing do not just go from us to the outside; it also has an impact on the writer. Besides communicating, writing also allows us to order our thoughts , going from a chaotic flow in our mind to a linear structure on paper.
"Words make noise, blur the paper and anyone can see and hear them. Instead, ideas are trapped inside the head of the person thinking them. If we want to know what another person thinks, or talk to someone about the nature of thought, we have no choice but to use words. "(Pinker, 1994).Related article: "Psychology gives you 6 tips to write better"
What effects can writing have on our health?
Regarding the title of this article, it seems that, literally, writing can help to accelerate the process of re-epithelialization of a wound . But not any kind of writing works.
In a study at the University of Auckland, Koschwanez and his collaborators (2013) investigated how expressive writing would affect wound healing in people over 60 years of age, since it is the population group in which the immune function is most visible. harmed. The reduction in the speed of healing is usually associated with stress and depressive symptoms .
The expressive writing method usually consists in that, in three consecutive days, the person must write for 20 minutes about the most traumatic experience he has suffered , with special emphasis on feelings, emotions and thoughts during this stressful event.
How does the study was realized?
To test their hypothesis, these researchers assigned the subjects to two conditions. On the one hand, some had to perform this expressive writing procedure (intervention group) and, on the other hand, the control group had to write 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days about what they would do the next day, without referring to emotions or thoughts.
To measure the healing capacity, two weeks after the first writing session, a 4-millimeter skin biopsy was performed on all participants. Throughout the 21 days after the biopsy, a dermatologist periodically examined the wounds, categorizing them into "cured" or "uncured", understanding the term "cured" as a complete healing.
The results, very hopeful
As for the results of the study, on the 11th day after the biopsy, the number of people whose wounds had healed was already significantly higher for those who had written expressively about their emotions. 76% had cured their wounds completely, compared to 42% of those who had written about their daily plans.
Previously, on day 7 a difference began to be observed, with 27% of scarring in the expressive writing group compared to 10% in the control group . The authors hypothesize that these results are due to the fact that expressive writing favors the cognitive processing of traumatic events, perceiving the event from another perspective and reducing the stress that this causes. This reduction of stress would produce positive effects on the immune system, which would favor processes such as, for example, wound healing.
These results support other studies in which it has been found that high levels of cortisol, hormone released as a response to stress, plays a negative role in the speed of healing.This beneficial effect of expressive writing has also been seen in other pathologies whose symptoms are, in part, modulated by stress, such as AIDS (Petrie et al., 2004) and moderate asthma (Smith et al., 2015).
What effects on our mental health can expressive writing have?
Focusing on the psychological effects of expressive writing, there are numerous studies that have investigated their benefits both in normative populations and in those at risk of suffering from a disorder. For example, Krpan and his collaborators (2013) wanted to measure the effectiveness of expressive writing as a complement to other interventions in people diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, according to the DSM-IV.
The procedure of the study was the same as that mentioned above, the participants of the intervention group would write 20 minutes a day for three days on their deepest feelings regarding a traumatic event. Participants were given a series of questionnaires and cognitive measures before the intervention, one day after the end of the intervention and four weeks later. Among these evaluation systems was the Beck Depression Inventory.
Regarding the results that were obtained, one day after finishing the intervention, the reduction of depressive symptoms was already significantly higher in those who had written about their feelings , emotions and thoughts compared to the measure before starting the experiment and, also, compared to those who wrote about their future activities. This reduction was maintained when the participants were reevaluated four weeks after the intervention, even obtaining subclinical scores.
What psychological processes explain these benefits?
After a series of studies, Park, Ayduk, and Kross (2016) discovered that when people write about these traumatic events, what they do is alter the perspective from which they see the problem, that is, changes the way they cognitively represent the event .
According to these authors, at first, when someone analyzes a negative event, they live it again through their eyes, that is, the person who analyzes the event is the same one who tries to reason internally about it. Therefore, expressing feelings, emotions and thoughts on paper would cause us to adopt a perspective of the problem from a more distant point. That is to say, We would go from reliving the experience in the first person to remembering it as something alien to us , similar to how we would see a movie or read a story that happened to another.
By being able to perceive the context of the negative event in a wider way, those affected can construct a narrative about it, giving it a meaning and giving it a series of different explanations. All these processes would reduce the aversion of memory, allowing this, according to Park and his collaborators (2016), a lower emotional and physiological reactivity. These effects would lead to an improvement in mental and physical health, and thus in the quality of life.
A promising tool
As a conclusion, due to the low economic cost and time that this activity requires, it should be taken into account as a possible alternative and complement when dealing with events that affect us emotionally.
Just like we turn to our closest environment when a problem happens and we want to feel your support, a paper and a pen could also serve as a support method in difficult times .
- Koschwanez, H., Kerse, N., Darragh, M., Jarrett, P., Booth, R., & Broadbent, E. (2013). Expressive writing and wound healing in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Psychosomatic medicine, 75 (6), 581-590.
- Krpan, K.M., Kross, E., Berman, M.G., Deldin, P.J., Askren, M.K., & Jonides, J. (2013). An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Journal of affective disorders, 150 (3), 1148-1151.
- Park, J., Ayduk, Ö., & Kross, E. (2016). Stepping back to move forward: Expressive writing promotes self-distancing. Emotion, 16 (3), 349
- Petrie, K., Fontanilla, I., Thomas, M., Booth, R., & Pennebaker, J. (2004). Effect of written emotional expression on immune function in patients with human immunodeficiency virus infection: a randomized trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66 (2), 272-275.
- Pinker, S. (1994). The Language Instinct. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
- Smith, H., Jones, C., Hankins, M., Field, A., Theadom, A., Bowskill, R., Horne, Rob. & Frew, A. J. (2015). The effects of expressive writing on lung function, quality of life, medication use, and symptoms in adults with asthma: A randomized controlled trial. Psychosomatic medicine, 77 (4), 429-437.