Sunday, July 6, 2008

Writing as Therapy: Rocks and Pebbles

Stress is rampant in most of our lives today, and is a primary contributor to premature death. Even when we make an effort to be healthier, we create more stress! I experience health-related stress every time I try the latest count-every-calorie diet and go to bed with a growling stomach.

We manage stress in individual and somewhat mystical ways. Whether you cope with stress though exercise, aromatherapy, meditation, medication, therapy, or a combination, you use a method that blends with your personality.

I’ve always believed in gut feelings, and my gut tells me that writing is the technique that works for me. I will be the first to admit a bubble bath can brighten a bad day, but when I grapple with a dilemma, I need to write. The key word is “need.” It isn’t that I want to write, or writing through the problem might help; writing is necessary. Nothing else works as well as writing to relieve my stress, grief, disappointments, or the myriad of quandaries spawned by daily life.

Through Jim’s downward spiral into the land of dementia, I survived by writing. From the first memory lapses through ten years of gradually losing my best friend and companion, I wrote. Pen and paper, or my laptop, took the brunt of my anger, disappointment, and despair. Had I unloaded all my problems onto other human being, I probably wouldn’t have any friends or relatives without unlisted phone numbers.

I wrote “Writing as Therapy: Rocks and Pebbles” for Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love. One of the purposes of the book was to help others traveling the Alzheimer’s journey. I would have been remiss had I not shared the value of writing.

Imagine my excitement to find research validates the therapeutic benefits of writing for both emotional well-being and physical problems. It is easier for me to understand the emotional benefits of writing than to comprehend that participants of therapeutic writing experiments showed decreased blood pressure, less pain from arthritis, and better breathing in asthmatics.

In this age of self-help, writing is an inexpensive way to use the benefit of self-reflection to increase our joy in living. Researchers warn that writing is not a cure-all and may not work for everyone. But if you are one who believes in gut feelings, you might want to give it a try. Writing as therapy is not about being a “writer” or “published author;” it’s about expressing your emotions through writing.

My current book project, Writing as Therapy: Rocks and Pebbles, explores how writing memories, or even fiction, can be cathartic. Writing allows me to reflect on life, examine my values, and validate my faith that my existence has meaning. Writing is a stress-free health choice that allows me to feast on spiritual food. No calorie counting required.

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