Elizabeth: Write for your Health

In my healthcare-related day job, we talk about “Mind – Body – Spirit” when addressing how to help patients (and communities) achieve long-term health and wellness goals.  There is a big banner with those words on the wall of one of our buildings and the phrase often appears on PowerPoint slides, especially in strategy and planning meetings.  While the idea is sound, I’m afraid the over-used phrase tends to inspire a bit of eye-rolling on occasion, though maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, the prevalence of the phrase at work explains why, when I came across an article the other day talking about how Writing improves your Mind, Body, and Spirit, my first response was an eye-roll.   The article, however, had some good points, as did the variety of other related articles I found when I started googling the subject.

Turns out, writing doesn’t just result in stories that can be shared with readers, it also provides some tangible “mind, body, and spirit” related benefits for the writer.  As a note:  those benefits apply to creative pursuits in general, rather than being tied solely to writing.  While it is by no means exhaustive, here is a list of some of the benefits of living a creative (writing) life:

Mind

Mental health – Brain-imaging studies have shown that creativity, which can be thought of as taking the time and space to fuel the imagination, actually alters brain chemistry, which can provide a boost to mental health.  While there can be some frustrations (okay, lots of frustrations) in the writing process, think of that euphoric rush when you get that great scene down on paper or uncover that perfect twist to add to the plot or finally type “The End.”  That’s your brain’s reward center releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s sometimes described as a natural antidepressant.

Communication – As you write, you are telling your story to your potential readers.  Through the drafting process, as you spend time in the minds of your characters, you learn how they express ideas and communicate with others.  While that learning is great in terms of your book, it can also help you hone your own communication skills and make you better able to communicate ideas.

Critical Thinking – Writing definitely requires strong critical thinking skills; whether it’s mapping out acts, scenes, or character arcs; keeping track of mysteries and clues; or brainstorming twists and turns.  That critical thinking, like the process of learning to play an instrument or to speak a new language, helps build new mental pathways – in essence, enhancing your mental capacity.    As Flannery O’Connor is quoted as saying in the image above, writing can also help you work through your thoughts on a particular subject.

Body

Vital signs – When you’re working on something creative, you tend to be pretty focused, right?  Researchers have shown that that level of focused attention acts on your system like meditating does.  When your creativity is really flowing, your muscles relax (assuming you’re not hunched over your keyboard), your heart-rate slows, and your blood pressure and stress levels (cortisol) decrease, which are all things that can contribute to improvements in overall physical health.

Exercise – Okay, exercise isn’t technically part of the writing process, but maybe it should be.  Researchers are just beginning to understand how your thinking processes change when engaged in physical activities.  I went to a talk by author Joyce Carol Oates once at my local university years ago and she said she often did some of her best “writing” while out for a walk/run, and I’ve heard other authors say the same thing.  I find that I often come up with what I think are my most creative ideas while on the elliptical-machine down at the gym.    All that exercise can pay of, not just in creativity, but in improved physical health.

“The more regularly you exercise, the better you will sleep and the more of a creative powerhouse you will become.”

Spirit

Emotional Release – A few of the articles I encountered during my search focused on “expressive writing” as a way of dealing with stress and/or traumatic events.  In those cases, the ability to escape into writing provided a distraction from negative thoughts and emotions, reduced depression, and even helped improve self-identity.   Writing about emotionally charged subjects or traumas can help put them in perspective and develop coping strategies, leading to improvements in general well-being, sleep, immunity, and overall health.

 “Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” ~ Graham Greene, Ways Of Escape

Community – While writing is often a lonely pursuit, it can also have a strong community aspect (like this very blog).  Being part of a community of like-minded individuals can lead to greater perceptions of well-being.  Think of the lift you feel when you have good news to share with your writer fiends, whether it’s winning a contest, meeting a goal, or just having written a great sentence.  Those kinds of connections can improve your mood, as well as provide “hits of happy” to mentally store away for occasions when things are not so bright.

Happiness – The process of writing includes self-expression, problem-solving, and creative thinking.  Even when the results of your writing aren’t quite where you want them to be, the writing process, when done regularly, can be linked to improved mood and well-being.  It can also help foster a sense of control over the experiences life throws at you, leading to increased happiness and resilience.

Finally, engaging in writing (or your favourite creative pursuit of choice) makes life interesting and fulfilling, and, frankly, fun.  So go forth and create; your Body, Mind, and Spirit will thank you.

Can you think of other ways that writing (or other creative pursuits) help improve your Mind, Body, and Spirit?

2 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Write for your Health

  1. I’m going to say that writing can be really lousy for the body — these days when I concentrate too hard (either reading or writing), I can get dizzy when I stand up. It’s important to balance actual writing time with good exercise and walks to keep the blood moving to the brain, and the lungs breathing.

    (-: I really like what writing does for my mind and spirit, though. I’ll add that making mental connections must be a good thing for the brain, too. If any brain bits get wiped out for any reason, it’s nice to have the ability to make other neural networks, and have something in place. I wonder if any gruesome studies have been done on writing brains? Sounds like something Mary Roach would investigate!

    Three cheers for writing!

    • Michaeline – I know what you mean about the lousy for the body part. When you get so focused and forget to move, you can wind up with all kinds of trouble. I try to remember to stop and move around on a regular basis, but when things are flowing well, I hate to stop and maybe lose my train of thought.

      I did try to find some studies regarding what a writer’s brain looks like or anything concrete about how writer’s brains may differ from others, but did not have any luck. Seems like that would be an interesting field of study. I recall there was a study a while back about romance readers where they did imaging of their brains before, during, and after they read and there were some interesting results, but I can’t find the link any longer.

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