Writing about our emotions can help heal wounds

From the primitive sounds and gestures emitted by Homo habilis to the complex languages ​​developed by Homo sapiens, the human being has the ability to bring out everything that is happening in his head through different sounds to which a meaning has been assigned.

Through language, we can talk about things that happened years ago, plan an event in a month, or just communicate our feelings and concerns to a friend.

But this ability to exteriorize our thoughts is not limited only to language, but thatand through various technologies we can save our knowledge in the environment. From cave paintings that our Paleolithic ancestors represented their life and customs to, to writing books or that same article, to sending a WhatsApp message, the ability to symbolically represent ourselves that allows us to communicate our thoughts and that anyone with access to the means to present them can come into contact with what we thought at the time.

The psychological effects of writing

But the effects of writing don’t just go outwardly from us; it also has an impact on who writes. In addition to communicating with us, writing also allows us to order our thoughts, Go from a chaotic flow in our mind to a linear structure on paper.

“The words make noise, they dirty the paper and anyone can see and hear them. Instead, ideas are trapped in the mind of whoever thinks them. If we are to know what someone is doing. ‘other think, or talk to someone about the nature of thinking, we have no choice but to use words. ”(Pinker, 1994).

Related article: “Psychology gives you 6 tips for writing better”

What effects can writing have on our health?

As for the title of this article, it seems that literal writing can help speed up the process of re-epithelialization of a wound. But not all types of writing work.

In a study from the University of Auckland, Koschwanez and colleagues (2013) investigated how expressive writing would affect wound healing in people over 60, as this is the population group in which the immune function is further impaired. Reduced healing rate is often associated with stress and depressive symptoms.

The expressive writing method usually consists of, in three consecutive days, the person should write for 20 minutes about the most traumatic experience they have had, With special emphasis on feelings, emotions and thoughts during this stressful event.

How was the study conducted?

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 in class. The next day. , without reference to emotions or thoughts.

To measure healing ability, two weeks after the first writing session, a 4-millimeter skin biopsy was taken from all participants. During the 21 days following the biopsy, a dermatologist periodically examined the wounds, categorizing them as “healed” or “not healed”, including the term “healed” as complete healing.

The results, very encouraging

As for the results of the study, by 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 completely healed their injuries compared to 42% of those who wrote about their daily projects.

Previously, on day 7, a difference was already observed, with 27% scars in the expressive writing group versus 10% in the control group. The authors hypothesize that these results are due to the fact that expressive writing promotes cognitive processing of traumatic events, perceiving the event from a different angle and reducing the stress it causes. This reduction in stress is said to have positive effects on the immune system, which would promote processes such as wound healing.

These results support other studies in which high levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, was found to play a negative role in the speed of healing. This beneficial effect of expressive writing has also been observed in other pathologies whose symptoms are partly modulated by stress, such as AIDS (Petrie et al., 2004) and moderate asthma (Smith et al., 2015).

What effects can expressive writing have on our mental health?

Focusing on the psychological effects of expressive writing, there are many studies that have investigated its benefits in both normative populations and those at risk of suffering from certain disorders. For example, Krpan and colleagues (2013) wanted to measure the effectiveness of expressive writing in addition to other interventions in people diagnosed with major depressive disorder, according to the DSM-IV.

The study procedure was the same as mentioned above, participants in the intervention group wrote 20 minutes a day for three days about their deepest feelings about a traumatic event. The participants received a series of questionnaires and cognitive measures before the intervention, one day after the end of the intervention and four weeks later. Among these rating systems was the Beck Depression Inventory.

Regarding the results obtained, one day after the end of the intervention, the reduction in depressive symptoms was already significantly greater in those who wrote about their feelings, Emotions and thoughts compared to the extent before starting the experience and also compared to those who wrote about their future activities. This reduction was maintained when participants were reassessed 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) found that when people write about these traumatic events, what they are doing is shifting the perspective from which they see the problem, i.e. -d. it changes the way they cognitively represent the event.

According to these authors, at first, when someone analyzes a negative event, he relives it through his eyes, that is to say that the person who analyzes the event is the same who tries to reason internally to his subject. Therefore, capturing feelings, emotions and thoughts on paper would cause us to take a perspective of the problem from a more distant point. In other words, that is to say we would go from reliving the experience in the first person to remembering it as something foreign to usSimilar to how we would watch a movie or as if we are reading story after story.

By being able to perceive the context of the negative event in a broader way, those affected can construct a narrative about it, make sense of it, and give it a number of different explanations. All these processes would reduce the aversion of the record, allowing, according to Park and his colleagues (2016), less emotional and physiological reactivity. These effects would lead to an improvement in mental and physical health, and therefore in the quality of life.

A promising tool

In conclusion, due to the low economic cost and the time required for this activity, it should be considered as an alternative and a possible complement when it comes to events that affect us emotionally.

Just as we look to our immediate surroundings when a problem arises and we want to feel their support, a paper and pen could also be used as a support method in difficult times.

Bibliographical references:

  • Koschwanez, H., Kerse, N., Darragh, M., Jarrett, P., Booth, R., and Broadbent, E. (2013). Expressive writing and wound healing in the elderly: a randomized controlled trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 75 (6), 581-590.
  • Krpan, KM, Kross, E., Berman, MG, Deldin, PJ, Askren, MK and Jonides, J. (2013). Daily 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). Step back to move forward: expressive writing encourages estrangement from oneself. 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 instinct of language. New York, New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
  • Smith, H., Jones, C., Hankins, M., Field, A., Theadom, A., Bowskill, R., Horne, Rob. And Frew, AJ (2015). The effects of expressive writing on lung function, quality of life, drug use, and symptoms in adults with asthma: a randomized controlled trial. Psychosomatic medicine, 77 (4), 429-437.

Leave a Comment