Embrace Your Inner Hemmingway: Why Seniors Should Write
Writing is a popular hobby for millions around the world. While we may not all become the next Stephen King or Agatha Christie, it can be fun to create your own stories or worlds. Even if you’re simply writing a journal, it can be an excellent way to pass the time. The fact it’s fun isn’t the only way that writing can improve your life, though. Not only can it be done anywhere, but it’s a clinically backed method to help benefit mental health and protect the brain from age-related decline!
Combats Depression, Anxiety, and Trauma
The most studied benefit of writing has been its ability to improve mental health and stress levels. The writing can be physical pencil-to-paper writing or electronic writing (like blogging). One style of writing, journaling, has long been used as a form of stress management, as it can give you a chance to organize your thoughts and break down the stressful events of the day. This breaking down of events can help you with restructuring negative thoughts, which is a common element of cognitive behavioral therapy for stress and anxiety disorders. Journaling has also been linked with improved problem-solving by giving you a chance to organize plans and ideas and think about possible solutions. Having more organization and problem-solving skills can further reduce stress.
Journaling can help you with restructuring negative thoughts, common in cognitive behavioral therapy for stress and anxiety disorders.
Creative writing is another style of writing that is strongly linked with stress- and anxiety-reduction. One study found that expressive writing helped individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a three-month follow-up. What the researchers found was that, while symptoms of PTSD were still present, writing helped the individuals regulate and handle those symptoms significantly better. Numerous other studies have had similar results as well. The mental health benefits aren’t limited to those with PTSD, though. Writing has also been found to be effective as a coping method for general anxiety and stress, as well for dealing with traumatic events.
In addition, writing in third-person narration (point of view) about events or simply writing about your feelings may be effective ways to explore your emotions. And, this type writing doesn’t always have to explore negative events or emotions. One study found that writing about your life goals and positive experiences offered similar benefits, bolstering the writer’s sense of well-being and self-esteem. These findings were backed up by a 2004 study that had participants write about “intensely positive experiences.”
Tests and Sharpens Your Brain
We’ve previously written about how reading books can be healthy for your brain, but did you know writing them could benefit your brain, too? For example, just taking hand-written notes is a great way to improve your learning and keeping a diary can hone and improve your memory. The act of remembering events from the day can train your brain to focus on the little details, which can be a real mental workout. (Remember, we’ve discussed before how our brains work on a bit of a “use-it-or-lose-it” basis!) Another study found that writing, in general, promotes memory, stimulates brain function, and reduces age-related mental decline.
Protects the Body
The positives of writing aren’t only in the mind. Writing may also protect your body from illness and pain! One major randomized study of individuals with HIV found that writing improved their immune systems, marked by an increase in their CD4+ lymphocyte numbers. Another study found that chronically-ill patients who wrote about their emotions, primarily their anger, experienced improvements in pain management, mood, and pain severity after a nine-week study. Writing has also been linked with getting better sleep, which presents its own health benefits.
One major randomized study of individuals with HIV found that writing improved their immune systems.
Many of the physical benefits of writing come down the hobby’s stress-busting aspects. Carrying stress is horribly detrimental to your body in the long term. Acute or long-term stress can cause headaches, heightened blood pressure, and heart problems. Chronic stress can even develop into depression. By reducing and helping you cope with stress, writing can help prevent these outcomes.
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For many people, writing is a beloved hobby that helps them to create fantastical worlds or simply collect their thoughts at the end of a long day. If you’ve never thought about giving writing a try, there’s a growing body of evidence that may suggest you should! Even if you’re just taking 20 minutes to keep a journal each day, you may find a treasure trove of health benefits in it.
American Psychological Association — Writing to heal