To Relax or To Write?

We wrote about a study conducted at Wayne State University and Duke University that measured the effectiveness of mind-over-matter techniques to reduce stress and manage RA pain.

Coping Skills Training, which included stress reduction exercises such as  controlled breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, was shown to be effective.

Written Emotional Disclosure, in which RA  patients were asked to write about a particularly stressful or traumatic experience in their lives and how they coped with it, didn’t seem to have much of an effect—at least not a long-lasting one.

Well, we don’t care what the study found. We believe in the power of the written word (obviously) and its ability to heal. And we’d venture to say that the members of the CreakyJoints community who have participated in our writing workshops ( would agree with us.

So does Mark Lumley, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Wayne State and a lead author of the study.

He suggests two reasons why Written Emotional Disclosure didn’t fare well in this particular study and gives us plenty more reasons that people in pain should consider writing as a way to surmount it.

“Written Emotional Disclosure is way of emotionally processing and dealing with unresolved issues,” Dr. Lumley explains, adding, “Some patients don’t need it, so it won’t be effective for them. Other patients who could benefit from it, aren’t sure how to do it.

“The question is what we can do for that subset of patients who are haunted by things in their lives,” he explains. “Those events didn’t cause arthritis, but they cause [physical] pain when you suppress or inhibit them. You need to make the unexpressed expressed.”

Here are some of his suggestions for making Written Emotional Disclosure work for you:

Give Your Emotions a Voice – “Write about the stuff you’d rather not write about,” Dr. Lumley says, “the unspoken stuff that’s in your head.” In writing about an event in your life that had a profound effect on you “allow yourself to be angry, sad, relieved.” But…

Don’t Ruminate on the Crap – Bitching and moaning might bring immediate, short-term satisfaction, but it won’t help you move forward. “Go, in your writing, to a new place,” he advises. Recognize and express the first emotion you feel, then ask yourself what else you feel and address those emotions, too. You’ll find that a single event or experience can produce a wide range of emotional responses.

Write an “Unsent Letter” – “Most stress involves other people,” Dr. Lumley points out. All those things you left unsaid after an argument? The things you never had a chance to say to the person who hurt you? Write them out. Have that conversation on the page. You’ll express what you need to express without confrontation or contradiction.

Revisit and Revise – “Reread and elaborate. Set aside what you’ve written then go back and add to it, fill in the holes. Keep working on something until it no longer ties you up in knots,” he advises. that might mean setting aside what you’ve written for a day, a week, or longer, and coming back to it with a fresh eye and a fresh mindset.

Find Meaning – Think and write about how your stressful experience affected your beliefs, your attitude, your behavior, and your health. Recognizing that there’s a connection between the stress you experienced and the way you feel—both physically and emotionally—can be powerful and valuable.

No one’s grading your grammar, your spelling, your vocabulary, or your penmanship. What you say and how you say it is all down to you. The simple act of putting your thoughts on paper will allow you to hear them in a different way and envision yourself in a different way. It’s a therapeutic exercise that might not be effective for everyone, but it could be perfect for you.