Science shows that expressive writing can help heal mental distress.
It’s no secret that writing is a creative way to improve mental health. It provides an outlet for the many racing thoughts the writer experiences during the day. In a way, putting them on paper is liberating. And there is science to back it up. In fact, author Adam M. Croom of the University of California at Berkley wrote in an article published in the Journal of Poetry Therapy: “I have argued here that the practice of reading, writingand reciting poetry with others on a regular basis is not simply a passive and ineffective activity, but rather an active and productive activity that typically involves the engagement of a variety of different intrapersonal cognitive-emotional components (such than those involving memory, sensorimotor tasks, and positive effect)…”
Dr. Mark Rowe, MD and a expert in lifestyle medicine, agrees, saying that keeping a journal and writing in it every day is one of the habits of successful people. Allowing the often confusing mess of thoughts to organize itself in tangible ways helps the mind prioritize tasks and optimize its ability to be productive. Writing, according to Rowe and other practitioners, must be done regularly (usually daily) to maximize its benefits.
Some of the Ways Writing Can Improve Mental Health health include its potential to relieve anxiety, calm the nervous system, and allow the writer to connect more closely with their sense of self. Poetry, in particular, allows for a freedom of expression the brain isn’t usually used to when engaging in everyday conversation or when simply writing down a to-do list. He is particularly cathartic in difficult times and can reveal a lot about himself.
David Haosen Xiang and Alisha Moon Yi, both students of Harvard University Medical School, published an article in 2020 in the Journal of Medical Humanities based on their own personal experience in facilitating poetry workshops. Xiang and Yi cited a number of studies showing various health benefits of reading, writing and listening to poetry and Creative nonfiction. All of these creative outlets decrease stress and worry and alleviate symptoms of depression. They have also been shown to reduce chronic pain and improve mood and memory.
Another study, published in 2021 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that a group of 44 hospitalized children who were encouraged to read and write poetry “saw a reduction in fear, sadness, anger, worry and fatigue”. The authors concluded that “poetry was a welcome distraction from stress and an opportunity for introspection”.
“Whether coping with pain, managing stressful situations, or embracing uncertainty, poetry can benefit a person’s well-being, confidence, emotional stability, and quality of life. ‘a patient,’ Xiang and Yi wrote.
The ability of poetry to appease during times of stress has a lot to do with it slowing down reaction to events and changing the mind’s perspective on said events. Because it takes some concentration to produce a poem, the mind focuses on mastering the language instead of focusing entirely on the circumstances that brought it to life.
Linda Wasmer Andrews wrote in an article about the practice of poetic therapy in psychology today“And the abstract nature of poetry can facilitate the careful examination of painful experiences, which may seem too threatening to be addressed in a direct and literal way.”
The best part about turning to poetry in times of distress is that it doesn’t take a college degree or any formal training to do so. It’s all about free speech and there’s no right or wrong way to express your mental state on paper.