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Write and breathe on

It was International Women’s Day when my 6-year-old daughter stormed through the door after school and threw herself into my arms: “Congrats on the worldsbestwomensday”! I laughed and gave her a hug. But with war in Ukraine, it was definitely not the worldsbestwomensday.

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Last year was neither the worldsbestwomensday – Corona. And the year before, the world had come to a complete standstill, and we found ourselves trapped in an apartment with two kindergarten kids and two demanding full-time jobs that intensified in workload during the initial months of the pandemic. I recall spending hours before dawn scrolling through the life ticker on my phone, each day bringing new records of infected, hospitalized and dead.

This year, there was not only war outside, but there was also war inside. My body was fighting a huge infection. Pneumonia had led to a very painful pleurisy. I had never heard of this word before. I was in week 3 of pain, on medication, and doing my best to stay on the sofa and rest. My body had finally had enough of my lifestyle.

I hear you – I write on the page.

I breathe shallowly.

I write.

I relax a bit.

I breathe a bit deeper.

Through my writing I speak with my pain. I am starting to feel a bit more comfortable, finally. 

In an article for the Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, authors Baikie and Wilhelm present evidence of the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. These experiments are conducted with two groups of people. For a few days, one group is asked to write about their very deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of their life, whereas the other group is asked to write about a neutral topic (say the weather or their wardrobe).

The difference in outcomes among these two groups is caused by the expressive writing experience. Even months later outcomes differ between these two groups, with those having written about their emotions recording fewer stress-related visits to the doctor, benefit from an improved immune system, lung and liver functioning, and reduced blood pressure, among other positive effects.

The authors also cite a study in which participants with asthma showed improvements in lung function, following a laboratory- based writing program. Fascinating.

“Dinner is ready in two minutes”, my husband called from the kitchen. “Yeahhhh”, the kids cried out and jumped up and down. They had set the table. There were flowers. Perhaps it was the worldsbestwomensday after all. It’s a new beginning. The beginning of a writing life.

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Dr. Stefanie Brodmann

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