The last thing any writer wants to hear when they already put in thousands of words a week is to write more, but that is exactly what new studies are suggesting. Writing down your feelings can actually improve mood.
So maybe those angst filled chronicles of our teen years really helped.
A recent article on the New York Times website suggests that writing your personal stories can improve, not only mood, but outcomes. Research done on college students who were stressed about grades and worried that they weren’t smart enough for school were challenged to create an essay or video about college life to be seen by future students. The study found that grades and outcomes improved.
Another study asked couples with marital issues to write about the problems as an objective observer. Over time the couples participating in the study reported an increase in marital satisfaction.
Researchers believe that writing interventions can change people’s negative perceptions into more positive ones. James Pennebaker is a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Texas. He had college students write for 15 minutes a day about an important personal issue or superficial topics. Those who wrote about personal issues had fewer illnesses and visits to the student health center than those who wrote on superficial topics.
Journaling is a way to track your emotional responses to the events going on in your life. This can help on several levels:
- It gives people suffering from depression an easy way to move forward. One of the most insidious things about depression is that it saps motivation even to make the changes necessary to help yourself. Keeping a journal is easy, private and can be done at home in a short period of time.
- It tracks your emotions. Over time, journaling can help you see patterns in feelings and behavior, as well as show you improvements in both your life and your mental attitude.
- For writers, it can be a warm up—a way of expressing yourself that no one is going to judge. It can also help jumpstart your creativity.
During the periods of time when I journaled, I did see an increase in my productivity. Mood? Not sure. Sometimes I experienced a small sense of relief or catharsis, while other times I did it just to cross something off my daily list. The concept of changing your own story from something anxiety ridden and negative into something positive is intriguing. Sort of like the little engine that could idea. As the science behind this grows, I expect that we’ll learn much more about why and how writing improves mood and creativity.
Here are more articles on the subject of writing and mood.