Now Brewing: This fruity blend of caribbean and coconut flavors is definitely living up to its namesake “Jamaica Me Crazy” by Wolfgang Puck. It’s the perfect mix of flavors that take me back to sweeter, sunnier mornings where I can’t see my breath and there isn’t sparkling frost decorating the scene outside my window.
Forget emotional eating! I’m more of an emotional writer. According to many recent studies, such as the Scientific American study into the therapeutic value of blogging, I’m not alone. Expressive writing has become more widely used than just in therapist’s offices and for the insane novelists struggling to get their inner stories out. It’s the unregulated style of the expressive writing mantra that make it so appealing. It’s strictly personal. There’s no need for proper spelling or for strenous editing to catch the grammatical and punctual errors. There’s no right or wrong way to do it.
That’s why, for so many, expressive writing is where their most personal experiences and feelings are explored. Expressive writing may state an opinion. Or recount the author’s personal experiences. Or answer a question or explain a belief. Often, it is reflective of the big, life shaping aspects in one’s life.
According to nueroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, Alice Flaherty, this type of writing is fueled by our limbic system–which is responsible for drives such as for problem-solving, appetite, or for sex. Flaherty said that:
“You know that drives are involved because a lot of people do it compulsively.”
So feeling a drive to communicate one’s thoughts through writing is completely rational. Flaherty also noted that the study showed that expressive writing also triggers a dopamine release which can similarly be felt through other coping mechanisms like listening to one’s favorite song, taking a warm bath, or going for a run.
There are other underlying reasons for why expressive writing can be so beneficial. For many, the need to write is fueled by a dissatisfaction or a confusion of an event which has transpired recently in their lives. The article, “Cope With Your Symptoms Through Expressive Writing” nails three possible scenarios for the benefits of this writing practice. The first acknowledges that it works because it helps people make sense. It could be a processing tool to find a good way to respond to or to conceptualize the meaning of the event. The second is the age old idea of releasing pent up emotions. By writing down these feelings through expressive writing, an improved mood or better feeling about the event. The final benefit is that by sharing expressive writing, writers are given a sense of social support. By getting motivational comments or positive feedback, a writer may feel comforted knowing others have gone through–and survived–these events too.
Even writing a short story, poem, or other fiction piece may provide the escape from reality that many people who are stressed or coping with something painful, desperately need and desire.
For fifteen minutes, or an hour, or three–the only problems they have are what their characters or speaker is going through. Creating this alternate reality is what makes expressive writing so detrimentally beneficial, even in cancer patients. According to the Scientific American article:
“A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.”
These findings are consistent with another aspect of this writing practice which is the emphasis on perceptions. In order to write in depth about any certain event, for example a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to explore all the different perceptions. Expressive writing can be used to write about the how different relationships are perceived. How will my co-workers react? How will my husband feel? Why did God chose me? Answering these driving questions will create a better coping mechanism than simply writing “Cancer SUCKS” and tossing the paper aside.
Whether it’s the dopamine release, the conceptualization process of a recent event, or social support aspects– expressive writing is becoming an important skill in coping used by many.
For me, it’s simply getting feelings out. I can be writing Second Shots from the perspective of one of my main female characters and look down fifteen minutes later to see that her thoughts on that page have morphed into my own. If I am having a really tough time understanding why something in my life isn’t really working, I put one of my characters through a similar situation–watching how they will react (usually in a completely different manner than myself) gives me a fresh perspective and shows me why it’s not working for me in reality. Writing definitely always has been a coping mechanism for me. At the end of a really tough emotional or grueling stressful day, you can always find me writing, even if it’s only for ten minutes.
After I’ve written, for whatever reason, everything is a little more manageable.
Hey, it’s okay. I’m an emotio-writer.
There. I feel much better.
See You All Soon,
Kathryn E. Weast