Expressive writing can aid healing

expressive wriringThe Benefits of Writing

Happy New Year! May 2018 bring you health and happiness.

Who would have thought that the process of writing could actually help to heal our bodies, as well as our minds?

It’s well known that keeping a private daily diary/journal can be very therapeutic for the mind. Writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you to to understand them more clearly. A private  journal is for your eyes alone, so you can write in it without fear of judgement. Simply keeping a journal can help you deal with stress, depression, or anxiety.

Journaling has wonderful benefits for mental health, but in 1986, psychology professor James Pennebaker discovered that a particular kind of writing, which he called “expressive writing”, can have a measurable and significant effect on our bodies. Since then, further research has shown that it can:

  • make wounds heal faster
  • boost immune function
  • improve the health of asthma sufferers
  • improve the health of rheumatoid arthritis patients
  • significantly decrease the number of visits to the doctor
  • decrease troublesome symptoms of breast cancer

There may be other benefits of expressive writing that are, as yet undiscovered. It could even have a beneficial effect on histamine intolerance.  But what exactly is it?

Expressive Writing

“Expressive writing is personal and emotional writing without regard to form or other writing conventions, like spelling, punctuation, and verb agreement… Expressive writing pays no attention to propriety: it simply expresses what is on your mind and in your heart… Expressive writing is not so much what happened as it is how you feel about what happened or is happening.”

[Reference: “Write Yourself Well: Expressive Writing“, by John F Evans Ed. D. Psychology Today. Posted Aug 15, 2012]

Claudia Hammond, in her BBC Future article “The Puzzling Way That Writing Heals the Body” (2 June 2017) describes studies in which “…volunteers typically do some expressive writing, then some days later they are given a local anaesthetic and then a punch biopsy at the top of their inner arm. The wound is typically 4mm across and heals within a couple of weeks. This healing is monitored and again and again, and it happens faster if people have spent time beforehand writing down their secret thoughts.”

Expressive writing works just as well if people use it *after* they are wounded.

How to Use Expressive Writing

So how is expressive writing performed? John F Evans in his article “Write Yourself Well” suggests the following general instructions for expressive writing:

 1. Time: Write a minimum of 20 minutes per day for four consecutive days.

2. Topic: What you choose to write about should be extremely personal and important to you.

3. Write continuously: Do not worry about punctuation, spelling, and grammar. If you run out of things to say, draw a line or repeat what you have already written. Keep pen on paper.

4. Write only for yourself: You may plan to destroy or hide what you are writing. Do not turn this exercise into a letter. This exercise is for your eyes only.

5. Observe the Flip-out Rule: If you get into the writing, and you feel that you cannot write about a certain event because it will push you over the edge, STOP writing!

6. Expect heavy boots: Many people briefly feel a bit saddened or down after expressive writing, especially on the first day or so. Usually this feeling goes away completely in an hour or two.

Expressive writing costs nothing, it’s easy to do, it doesn’t take much time, it has no harmful side-effects and it has been scientifically proven to have health benefits. So no matter whether you wish to boost the healing of your mind or your body, it’s worth trying!

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Stress and Histamine Part 3

Oriental disciplines can relieve stressOriental disciplines can relieve stress

Oriental physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines such as yoga, t’ai chi, and qigong, which combine exercise with meditation and mindfulness, can trigger the release of beneficial hormones and other body-chemicals. Reducing stress can help people with histamine intolerance.

Evidence shows that such oriental disciplines can lower cortisol levels and encourage cell-healing. In fact, studies have found that when used to supplement traditional forms of treatment, regular practice of such techniques can:

  • reduce stress levels
  • combat depression
  • improve the quality of sleep
  • keep the body flexible
  • improve the sense of balance
  • help maintain bone density
  • decrease the pain of arthritis
  • improve heart health
  • reduce hypertension

Yoga

Yoga is a group of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines that began in ancient India. There is a broad variety of Yoga schools, practices, and goals.
Types of yoga include Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram,  Kundalini and Yin. “How to Do Yoga for Absolute Beginners” can be found here.

T‘ai-chi

T‘ai-chi is a Chinese discipline. Though originally conceived as a martial art and used for defense training, it is frequently practiced for a variety of health reasons. It has become popular worldwide. Most modern styles of t‘ai-chi trace their origins back to one or other of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu, and Sun.
“How to do Tai Chi” can be found here.

Qigong

“Qigong is a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for health, spirituality, and martial arts training. With roots in Chinese medicine, philosophy, and martial arts, qigong is traditionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance qi (chi), translated as ‘life energy’.[Cohen, 1999]

“Qigong practice typically involves moving meditation, coordinating slow flowing movement, deep rhythmic breathing, and calm meditative state of mind. Qigong is now practiced throughout China and worldwide for recreation, exercise and relaxation, preventive medicine and self-healing, alternative medicine, meditation and self-cultivation, and training for martial arts.”How to Practice Qigong” here.
[Wikipedia]

You don’t need expensive equipment or even expensive classes to practice these methods. Classes are recommended, because of the social benefit of exercising in groups, and the value of a good teacher. However if you’re really hard up and cannot afford classes, once you have learned some moves from books or YouTube, you can practice yoga, t’ai chi, or qigong for free at home.


Reference:
Cohen, K. S. (1999). The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing. Random House of Canada. ISBN 0-345-42109-4.

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Stress and Histamine: Part 1

stress and histamineStress and Histamine

“When you’re all stressed out, your body releases hormones and other chemicals, including histamine, the powerful chemical that leads to allergy symptoms. While stress doesn’t actually cause allergies, it can make an allergic reaction worse by increasing the histamine in your bloodstream.”
Stress Relief Strategies to Ease Allergy Symptoms – WebMD

This is the first in our series of posts giving you strategies for dealing with stress.

Life comes with its own built-in stressors. We can try to avoid stressful situations, but:

  • It’s impossible to completely avoid all stress.
  • We actually need small amounts of stress now and then. A little bit of stress, for a short time, can be inspiring and motivating. It’s long-term, chronic stress that can cause health problems.

It’s not so much the stressfulness of a situation that determines how stressed an individual person will feel. It’s that person’s reaction to the situation. For example, two people could find themselves in identical situations, and one might react calmly while the other one panics.

Stress management – the first steps

Stressful situations will always come and go in our lives. There’s not much you can do to stop them happening, but there is a lot you can do to minimize stress and its effects.

Step 1:

Recognize that you are in  control of your own  emotions, thoughts, routines, and responses to stress. Studies show that simply knowing we have some control over our own lives is a major factor in minimizing the effects of stress!

Step 2:

Figure out what is causing the stress in your life.
We’re not always conscious of the real sources of stress. Many people suffer from low-level stress without really knowing why. Sometimes we think we know the reasons, but if we look closer, there may be other causes involved. Thoughts and feelings play a major role.
For example, maybe you feel you are rushed off your feet every day, and you have too much to do. You might blame a heavy work-load for your feelings of stress. But perhaps you are expecting too much of yourself – setting impossibly high standards for the amount of work you think you should get through. Allow yourself to be less of a perfectionist. Permit yourself to take a break and relax from time to time. Simply changing your expectations to make them more realistic could decrease your stress levels.
The point is, you might be blaming external forces for your stress, when in fact your own inner thoughts and feelings are largely contributing to it. If you go on telling yourself that all your stress is due to external factors beyond your control, you will always feel helpless. Work out how much of your stress is due to external factors such as your environment, or your health, or the people around you, and how much of your stress is your own responsibility. The great thing about being responsible for some of your own stress is that it means you can do something about it! You can control it!

In an article called “Stress Management”, the University of Southern California recommends keeping a simple daily “Stress Journal” so that you can  make a list of all the things that stress you out from day to day, and how you responded to them.
[“Stress Management” Be Well at USC. University of Southern California. ]
This is a good way to understand whether your stress responses are useful or counterproductive. For example, do you react to relationship problems by over-eating, smoking or  drinking? Or by talking to friends or counselors?

Step 3:

Work out how to deal with the sources of stress in your life.
If your stress journal shows a pattern of unhealthy, unproductive ways you react to stress, then swap them for better responses.

In our next post we will give you some helpful, proven strategies for doing this.

 

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