Sunday, October 2, 2011

Write On

For my LDS friends, hasn't General Conference been wonderful, as always? A few months ago I was at a fireside where Elder Cook spoke and shared the same story about meeting President Monson in the elevator. Remember? Okay, I don't expect you'd remember my old POSTS, but I did blog about it. Apparently, during and after that session of conference yesterday, many people found my blog post by searching for the story. How fun. But today I'm blogging about other things, in a febile attempt to catch up.

I noticed that in many of the classes I attended BYU Women’s Conference in August, there one topic came up even though several of the classes were unrelated. In those classes on parenting, happiness, healing, and goals, the common topic I noticed was, in my words, “Write On”.
The teachers talked about the importance of writing, an art that seems to be disappearing in our culture in some ways. The point isn’t to become an author or to become a more creative or perfect writer, but to use writing as a tool to help yourself feel gratitude, be happy, heal, share your love, keep your memories, share the gospel, reach out to others and work on your goals.
I know that my friends who also blog have felt this. Many of us feel that blogging (writing and sharing) is a form of therapy. It is good to put feelings down in words and then have even one person “hear you” and your joy, pain or perspective. Not only is it wonderful to write, but to go back and read. I have been strengthened by going back to my old posts and in my notebooks and reading what I felt, quotes or scriptures or music that uplifted me and helped me to know truth.
In President Henry B. Eyring’s memorable talk O Remember, Remember, he talked of his gratitude journal and how it helped him to see the hand of the Lord in his life and his blessings and to focus on the positive. I love how some of my blogger friends, like Ann’s An Old Fashioned Girl  and others, have gratitude posts or parts on their regular posts to take time to share what they are grateful for.

I attended all 4 of Dr. Dean Barley’s classes in the Happiness: Sustainable Strategies to Increase Life Satisfaction series and he spoke several times of writing—to cement your goals on paper, to work out problems and to feel more gratitude and therefore, more happiness.   
He taught of a study (probably there is more than one) where one group of people were told to write down 3 good things about their day every day, and those in the other group were not asked to do this. The group that kept this gratitude journal was more happy and less anxious. Not only that, but an unexpected result showed up. The group who wrote the good things down also exercised 1/5 hours more per week and slept better.

Several years ago I took a class at BYU on psychoneuroimmunology, studying the effects of our psychological state on our neurological and immunological systems. Super interesting to me. One of the topics we studied was similar to this article I found online. (Did you know there is something called writing therapy?)

Health Writing  Writing for therapy helps erase effects of trauma I won’t summarize everything since you can go read it if you’re interested, but it talked about how writing can heal you, both emotionally and even physically.

“The effect isn't just emotional, Pennebaker says. One of his studies, published in the "Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology" in April 1988, found that college students had more active T-lymphocyte cells, an indication of immune system stimulation, six weeks after writing about  stressful events. Other studies have found that people tend to take fewer trips to the doctor, function better in day-to-day tasks, and score higher on tests of psychological well being after such writing exercises, he says.

Dr. Barley, in one of his classes, mentioned something I may have heard before, but didn’t really remember. He talked about “post-traumatic growth”, and even included divorce as one of the traumas, along with losing a loved one, being kidnapped and other obvious ones. It’s helpful to think of that growth, not just the trauma. Dr. Barley and Carrie Maxwell Wrigley, in her class on Healing for Depression and Low Self-Worth, both talked about the role of writing in healing. (She has a CD out at Seagull Book for only $5.99 right now.)

Those who write out their feelings, problems, and anxieties heal more quickly than those who do not.

After we write it out, we see things we didn’t see. When we have to put it in specific words instead of a jumble of emotions, we can tackle each part of the problem. There are cathartic benefits in writing about your trauma or fears. The article above also talks about this.

"Writing gives you a sense of control and a sense of understanding… To write about a stressful event, you have to break it down into little pieces, and suddenly it seems more manageable."

I remember my mother writing as a way to work through things when I was growing up. I don’t know if someone taught it to her or if she just discovered that it helped her, but she would write out her feelings (I think) and then write over the words with more words so it was unreadable. I don’t know if it was so no one could read her personal words or if there was some other reason, but I do remember seeing that and learning from it.  

Dr. Barley also talked about the importance of writing thank you notes and letters. It not only helps the person who receives them, but it helps the writer. He even advocates writing the thank you letter, laminating it, and going in person or on the phone and reading it to the person. Cool idea, huh?
And finally, In their class on parenting, the famous Richard and Linda Eyre (Did you know they were on Oprah years ago?) talked about how Linda used writing in her role as mother. I love this idea and am sad that I did not hear it sooner so I could start when my children were very young. (Okay, I'm horrible at writing, so I probably wouldn't have done it anyway, but I love the idea.) Linda kept a book for each child, and they have like 9. In their books, she would occasionally write something about them that she saw them do, something funny they said or something special just about them. Then when they got married, she would give each child their book. How beautiful! Little things that they would otherwise not have remembered were recorded so they can laugh or cry at them together, reading all about it. And this book can be shared with posterity. I am so very bad at anything like that.

Even though I still have so much to post about from the individual classes, I wanted to talk about this topic since it was mentioned so many times. Have you used writing as therapy or kept a gratitude journal?


  1. I just wrote a post last night on my blog about gratitude and writing :)

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts here today.

  2. I knew I had heard that story somewhere before. Thanks for sharing. I know it's harder, when you're busy, but it matters (reminder to myself, as well). Have a great day!

  3. I also believe strongly in writing - writing for a purpose to be more exact. It is SO important and is quickly becoming lost. Loved this post and I loved Conference!

  4. Great blog Valerie! I do not have a blog (although I have thought about starting one), but I do find writing to be very therapeutic. I write the old fashion way (pen/paper). Although I can type very quickly, there is something about pen and paper. Sometimes, I look back at old writings, and I can see my feelings in the changes of my handwriting. Again thanks for your blog!

  5. Hmmm ... many things to think about ... do I use writing as completely as I could?

  6. It was a great Conference. There was something in each talk that I needed to hear.

    I love to write as well. I've kept a journal continuously since I was 10 years old. It is very therapeutic for me.

    It sounds like you have been able to attend some fabulous classes at BYU.

  7. I love to write...but I don't really write with a purpose.

    That thing that Linda does is a really cool idea...kind of like that marriage journal you talked about a couple of years ago. I imagine that it would also be helpful to the parent if their child changes during their teen years so they could be reminded of all the wonderful attributes their child has.


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