Cathy Edwards reports on studies that indicate that writing about our deep, dark emotional secrets helps improve our health and happiness. She states that there are both , “Risks and benefits to sharing your emotions online,” but that, “Decades of research have shown that writing down your emotions has concrete health benefits – even helping wounds heal.”
High-profile coverage of cyberbullying might make sharing your deepest emotions online sound like a bad idea, but when it comes to the risks and benefits of writing online, advice is mixed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, suggests questions about social media are included in visits to the doctor, a move prompted by worries about cyberbullying, internet addiction and sleep deprivation.
On the other hand, blogging about health problems has been shown to improve feelings of social support, especially when that support is lacking from family and friends.
Edwards cites research from 1986 that showed that writing about emotions is a good thing, in a section headlined “Traumatic experience”. Report continues:
..Long before the ubiquity of blogs and social media, Prof James W. Pennebaker published seminal research showing expressive writing could make people healthier.
He had the idea after finding that people who had had an early traumatic sexual experience were more likely to suffer health problems later in life, including cancer and high blood pressure.
Talking to Health Check’s Claudia Hammond, Prof Pennebaker said he realised it was because that experience was a secret.
“That just led me to ask the obvious question… if secrets are so bad, what if we brought people into the lab and had them in some way just disclose them?”
He asked college students to write on four consecutive days, for 15 minutes each time.
One group were asked to write about the most traumatic experience of their lives, ideally one that was a secret, while the other wrote about superficial things, such as the shoes they were wearing.
As you can imagine, the people who had kept their, “Emotions bottled up,” didn’t fare quite as well, according to Edwards.
Tracking their visits to the student health centre in the months before and after writing, he found that the group who wrote about a traumatic experience went only half as much as those who wrote about superficial things.
What about “Heartfelt blogs?” Edwards cites research that suggests that, “Writing about difficult experiences online can be helpful.”
Teenagers with social-emotional difficulties benefited from writing about their thoughts and feelings in blogs, researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel found.
Participants were assigned to one of six groups, including one that wrote in blogs open to readers but closed to comments, another in blogs open to comments, and one group that kept private computer diaries.
Though writing about their feelings helped all the groups, those who wrote in the blogs that were open to comments were helped most.
This contrasts with one of Prof Pennebaker’s recommendations for expressive writing – to do it for yourself.
But Prof Azy Barak, one of the study’s authors, says he was not surprised by the results.
“I think online writing is individually perceived and felt as a private experience, despite its actual openness and publicity.”
There is a risk that heartfelt blogs might elicit harmful negative responses, and Prof Barak emphasises that monitoring is essential with therapeutic blogging.
‘Get involved in life’
However, they did not find it was a big problem in their study. Out of hundreds of comments, only a few were deleted for being abusive.
To read the full report, click here.