Can a daily writing practice change your brain? The science says yes.
Allison Fallon is an author and the founder of Find Your Voice. Fallon's book "The Power of Writing it Down" focuses on the healing that can come from expressive writing.
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“The biggest thing that writing does for us is it helps us access another part of our brain that we're less likely to use on a daily basis,” Fallon said. The part of our brain used in the writing process is the same part of the brain used in therapy, which partially explains the benefits of writing emotionally, she said.
“Writing gives us a space on the page to talk about things in a way that we wouldn't otherwise be able to talk about them, a safe space to express our deepest thoughts and feelings about a topic,” Fallon said. "We don't feel like there's another place where we're able to do that.”
The British journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment has linked expressive writing to a number of positive health benefits, including fewer stress-related visits to the doctor, improved immune functioning, a greater sense of well-being and reduced depressive symptoms. The same study also showed positive behavioral outcomes like better attendance at work, improved memory and improved social and linguistic behavior.
Fallon said she believes there’s very little writing can’t change. And she knows firsthand the benefits of writing for emotional health. Writing became a powerful instrument for her when she was going through her own traumatic experience.
“It wasn't until I went through a divorce," she said. "I left an abusive relationship in my life. It was a really challenging time in my life, where my professional life and my personal life collided together.” Fallon said her personal connection with expressive writing was “so deeply cathartic and healing for me to be able to read the story, and see myself on the page.”
If you’re ready to try out expressive writing Fallon offered NBCLX a version of what she calls "the infinity prompt," an exercise that will turn events from everyday life into material that can be digested and understood through the writing process:
- Start with an event that feels particularly charged. She says to use an event from your life that has a lot of emotional weight as a starting point for exploration.
- Write the facts of the situation. Act like a journalist and report what happened in the situation from an unemotional perspective. This will take your subjective viewpoint out of the situation.
- List your beliefs about the event. From there, write out the ideas you have about the facts you listed, or the story you have told yourself about the event.
- Describe the emotions that resulted from the event. This is where you write how the incident made you feel, and examine how your thoughts and beliefs determine your response to events.
The goal is to understand how your thoughts create an emotional environment which in turn creates your reactions or responses. This prompt can be repeated over and over with different events in your daily life to help unravel how your beliefs affect your own behavior.
As Fallon began to journal her experience with her divorce, she said she started to find healing. “Although the details of what I had been through, which were horrific and tragic, had not changed, the way that I felt about those details had changed very significantly," she said. "I no longer felt like a victim to my circumstances. I felt like I had overcome impossible odds. I felt really hopeful about my future.”