Dancing outside my comfort zone

Woke up healthy again today

While writing my morning pages I realized I hadn’t been sick since I started dumping all of my thoughts onto a page utilizing my rusty but still serviceable cursive. While everyone else has been suffering with the latest colds and viruses, I’ve been blissfully healthy. Could it be that 30 minutes of writing every morning is enough to draw the toxins from my body and raise my resistance to airborne germs?

I’ve read my share of articles which talk about writing things down to take away their power, or even burning the paper to let go of something you no longer want. The cathartic benefits of writing things longhand are extolled by many. But I haven’t seen anyone mention it’s efficacy in thwarting viruses.

Is anyone else curious about this?

This train of thought which actually began during one of my daily morning pages sessions sent me on a little bit of an adventure. I needed to see if anyone had actually written anything hinting at, or saying outright that writing by hand helps the body’s immune system. I finally found a mention on NaturalNews.com stating that the resulting relaxation which occurs when you write by hand does have some health benefits including:

Relaxation has been shown to lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, improve mood, and even help avoid health problems like the common cold.

Now I’m getting somewhere!

What do the experts say?

Further research led me to an article in BJPsych Advances which gets more specific about why writing by hand is good for your health. Building on the relaxation factor, the authors, Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm connect that relaxation to a reduction in stress. By now, we’ve all heard the same story from the medical profession: stress kills.

Following that line of reasoning, if stress kills, wouldn’t it follow that reduction of stress heals? So say the results of studies on expressive writing in which patients are instructed to write about their deepest darkest feelings for 20 minutes a day (slightly less than the time it takes me to write 3 of my morning pages each day).  The test results appear to support this logic, as the study found:

The immediate impact of expressive writing is usually a short-term increase in distress, negative mood and physical symptoms, and a decrease in positive mood compared with controls. Expressive writing participants also rate their writing as significantly more personal, meaningful and emotional. However, at longer-term follow-up, many studies have continued to find evidence of health benefits in terms of objectively assessed outcomes, self-reported physical health outcomes and self-reported emotional health outcomes.

The authors include a long list of health-related improvements resulting from their studies including improved immunity as I’ve enhanced below:

Longer-term benefits of expressive writing

Health outcomes

  • Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor

  • Improved immune system functioning (bold and italics added)

  • Reduced blood pressure

  • Improved lung function

  • Improved liver function

  • Fewer days in hospital

  • Improved mood/affect

  • Feeling of greater psychological well-being

  • Reduced depressive symptoms before examinations

  • Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms

Putting some oomph behind the gratitude

It comes as no surprise to me that several of the articles and blog posts I found on the subject mention gratitudes and the benefits to be found by simply writing them by hand rather than typing them onto a computer screen. The increased focus and reduced distractions found in writing with pen and paper make the brain internalize what is being written. With that internalization comes an emotional release because you’re truly paying attention to the words you’re writing and the feelings they elicit. By the same token, writing about traumatic events gives them less power.

I’ve written about a number of things which are never intended to be seen by others in my morning pages. Often, they’re things which contain a large helping of guilt or remorse. Though in some cases, I’ll probably write about them over and over, I have noticed some reduction in the guilt and pain over certain events and choices I’ve made.

What I write about…and what I don’t

As I write this, I realize the one topic I have not written about in those pages is my relationship, or lack thereof with my youngest daughter. We’ve been estranged now for more than 4 years, and since then, I haven’t seen my granddaughter either. Yet, when I’m writing about the things filling my head and heart, they never come up.

I’ve filled pages with my anger, hurt, and frustration directed at myself, my oldest daughter and other people who aren’t even very important. Yet there’s nary a mention of Jenni in 5 months worth of writing. My only thought is I’m not ready to heal that wound yet, or that I’ve healed it as much as possible without contact.

Long ago, I came to terms with the fact that my daughters are adults and entitled to make their own decisions. I don’t have to like them, and they certainly don’t need my approval of those decisions. But I do have to respect them enough to accept their right to make those choices. I won’t say some of them haven’t broken my heart and made me wish I could help in some way, but over time, I’ve learned to stand back, be supportive, and allow them to learn their own lessons just as I learn mine…the hard way.

And the point is…

It might seem like I’ve wandered away from the original topic, and perhaps, to those who think linearly, I have. But as my mind couldn’t walk a straight line if it tried, you’ll just have to take my word for the fact that all of this is related.

To tie it all together it’s easier to see how writing by hand can benefit mental health, help work through issues and even just relax us. Making the jump between mental well-being and physical health requires us to expand our minds a bit and make some connections which maybe should be obvious but aren’t.

Making the connection

There’s a certain flow that occurs from the brain to the hand and back again when we pick up a pen and start writing. I suppose in some ways, it isn’t unlike an artist picking up a pencil or a paintbrush. We disconnect from everything mechanical or electronic and are suddenly aware of our physical limitations.

The words go from brain to page more slowly, especially if you type as fast as I do. In that slowed down space, thoughts form, but they also drift away, unwritten. The words which need to come out will always find their way to the page while those errant thoughts which have little impact will float away while we’re busy putting down the ones that matter.

Do we know they matter when they hit the page? Not always. But I’m convinced that if they do flow from my brain and out the tip of my pen, they flow through for a reason.

Is it time to start writing your own morning pages?

I’ve referred to my morning pages several times. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, I invite you to check out Julia Cameron’s website where she offers both the print and online versions of her course, The Artist’s Way. I’ve found it immensely helpful in clearing blocks, dealing with old issues and simply as a way to start my day before plugging in to email, social media and the rest of the technology which is so much a part of our lives these days.

Gratitude will always make things better

As always, I share with you a few of my gratitudes:

  1. I am grateful for the internet which aids my searches and helps me learn new things every day.
  2. I am grateful for friends who have guided me towards books, articles and practices which improve my life on so many levels.
  3. I am grateful for my solitary life. It has led me down introspective paths which broaden my horizons.
  4. I am grateful for inspiration which comes to me in many different forms.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; love, peace, harmony, connectivity, generosity, humanity, peace, joy, hope, philanthropy, and prosperity.

Blessed Be

I invite you to visit my Facebook pages, Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author and HLWT Accounting. Please also drop by my website, www.shericonaway.com and check out my Hire Me Page. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!

Photo courtesy of A. Birkan Caghan via Flickr

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