Journal your way to a healthier heart post divorce
Washington D.C. [USA], May 12 : Going through a divorce? You may want to write down your story as a recent study has suggested that narrative journaling can be good for your heart.
Study participants were divided randomly into three groups. Those assigned to the traditional expressive writing group were told to write about their most deeply held feelings about their relationship and separation experience.
Those in the narrative expressive writing group also were told to write about their feelings about the divorce, but within the framework of a narrative with a definite beginning, middle and end, essentially telling the story of the end of their marriage. A third group was simply asked to write non-emotionally about their day-to-day activities during the assigned writing period.
Participants in all three groups were instructed to write in their designated style for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days. Researchers conducted assessments of participants' physical and psychological health at baseline, prior to their journaling, and at two follow-up visits.
At the second follow-up visit, about eight months later, participants who had engaged in narrative expressive writing had a lower heart rate than participants in the other two groups. They also had higher heart rate variability, which refers to the variation in time between heartbeats and reflects the body's ability to adaptively respond to its environment and environmental stressors. Both lower heart rate and higher heart rate variability are generally associated with good health.
Lead author Kyle Bourassa noted that to be able to create a story in a structured way, not just re-experience your emotions but make meaning out of them, allows you to process those feelings in a more physiologically adaptive way.
Bourassa added that this structure can help people gain an understanding of their experience that allows them to move forward.
Participants in the narrative expressive writing group had lower heart rate and higher heart rate variability, relative to participants in the two other groups, across a variety of study conditions, at their normal resting state, as well as when presented by experimenters with external stressors, such as reminders of their divorce or a stressful math task.
Although more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of narrative expressive writing, the initial findings suggest it doesn't take much to see robust benefits.
The study is published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.