How Writing Improves Your Brain & Helps You Heal
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Humans are the only living beings on the earth who can express their thoughts in the form of writing. Call it an evolutionary success of the higher primates or an act of adaptation, the complex human brains show remarkable feature in terms of superiority in the animal kingdom.
Benefits of this invaluable capacity in humans have a larger scope. Writing not only serves as the mean for communication or expressing the thought processes in a systematic way but it also has developmental implications. One of these is the improvement in the neurological health, such as enhancing your memory.
I am sure by now you are curious enough to find out how writing is related to the development of the brain and how you can improve your brain health just by writing, so let’s embark on a journey to explore!
How Does Writing Help You?
In the era of digitization, writing has become a lost art. Starting from writing books, novels, stories to blogs, nearly all forms of writing are taken over by typing. But scientific research shows the brighter side of handwriting.
Therapeutic Aspects of Writing
A number of studies were carried out in the past and some are ongoing to prove the therapeutic aspects of writing.
- Expressive writing involves writing about yourself, this includes emotional experiences and thoughts. It can be in the form of writing in your personal diary. It is narrative in nature and is more on the explanation or the impact of the incidents on mind rather than a mere description of events. Scholars have penned down their views supported by facts and results to outline the benefits of expressive writing.
- Expressive Writing: Words that Heal, a book by James Pennebaker and John Evans beautifully described the positive sides of expressive writing. The authors also suggested several examples on the subject matter. For example, you can talk about things that keep you awake at night, incidents that caused trauma and happiness.
- Pennebaker and Evans suggest dedicating at least 20 minutes of your daily schedule to writing to increase its health benefits. They also said that writing for six weeks using different techniques and analyzing the written material plays an important role in mental wellbeing.
- In a groundbreaking study on the importance of expressive writing to overcome stress and trauma by James Pennebaker, it has been proved that regular writing will greatly improve your wellbeing. In his book “Writing about Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process”, he emphasized on putting in the thoughts in the form of words for emotional healing.
- Sarah Meshberg-Cohen, Dace Svikis and Thomas J. McMahon published an article, titled, “Expressive Writing as a Therapeutic Process for Drug Dependent Women”. The authors explained the benefits of expressive writing to improve the health of women who are diagnosed with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). Some of the participants experienced trauma, physical and sexual assaults. In this experiment, the researchers have confirmed the positive outcomes of therapeutic writing. The outcome of the study supported the fact that expressive writing helps you overcome signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma. Although, some scholars have argued that writing about the same stressful memory could inflict further trauma on the patients.
- Sloan and colleagues have suggested that in order to overcome traumatic memory or to de-stress the mind, one should write down his/her emotional experiences at least three times. With the help of their research, they supported this hypothesis that participants who repeated the description of a traumatic event for over three times showed a signification reduction in psychological stress.
Cognitive Aspects of Writing
On top of all its therapeutic aspects, writing also has several cognitive benefits that we can take advantage of.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is similar to Expressive Writing and it also requires its participants to pen down stressful memories in order to help the patients to fight depression. In a study based on cognitive processing therapy, participants showed a significant reduction in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and improvement of cognitive health just by writing.
- Marieke Longcamp and colleagues conducted tests on adults and children to determine the effect of handwriting on the brains and the results are overwhelming! The authors of “Neuroanatomy of Handwriting and Related Reading and Writing Skills in Adults and Children with and without Learning Disabilities: French-American Connections” claim that their experiment has shown how the brain develops a network when the participants actively focused on handwriting. The group of scholars claimed that the exercise of writing involves “network of brain structures” encompassing auditory regions, motor regions, and cortical regions. They added that writing requires the engagement of motor cortical and sensory cortical regions of the brain.
- World famous Soviet neurophysiologist and pioneer of motor control and learning, N. Bernstein in his book, “The Co-Ordination and Regulation of Movements” gave an account on writing. He wrote that the enactment of simple writing on a paper or drawing alphabets on the sand is the result of several processes that involve the brain, visual memory, sequence of gestures and motor control.
- M. Longcamp and coauthors used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see which regions of the brain are activated when a person learns to write. They identified the left dorsal premotor activation as the answer. Therefore, it suggests that a person who initiates the process of writing will actually stimulate different parts of the brain resulting in a greater cognitive strength.
- Another study by Longcamp et al. has proved that learning and remembering the pattern and orientation of letters by using different mediums, can also impact the brain. Participants took two different methods to learn new letters from unknown languages, those were handwriting and keyboard typing or copying. Over a period of time, the group of people involved in handwriting was found in a better position to memorize than those who were typing.
- We all know about cursive handwriting but how many of us still practice it? Research shows that handwriting is extremely helpful for children in their early years. It increases creativity and stimulates the brain functions doubling their productivity. It is also found that cursive writing helps children and adults to fight dyslexia and other psychological disorders.
Benefits of writing are enormous but often underrated. Writing has deep therapeutic advantages. Writing is also a good exercise for the brain to stimulate the brain cells and to improve memory. Bridget Murray at the American Psychological Association explains how the psychologists are using this weapon to treat thousands of patients with anxiety, depression, and trauma.
So, after analyzing all the reports, we all should take advantage of our great human brains and start writing regularly to make a better tomorrow.
Want to do meditation while you write? Go on a weekend writing retreat and let your creativity flow with the help of meditation, yoga and writing!