Putting stress into words: the impact of writing on physiological, absentee, and self-reported emotional well-being measures

M E Francis, J W Pennebaker
American Journal of Health Promotion: AJHP 1992, 6 (4): 280-7

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Inhibiting or holding back one's thoughts, feelings, or behaviors is associated with long-term stress and disease. Actively confronting upsetting experiences can reduce the negative effects of inhibition. The present study describes a unique approach to aid individuals in dealing with psychological and emotional issues that they must often face.

METHODS: Forty-one of the 81 university employees who were participating in a wellness program agreed to participate in the present study. Subjects were randomly assigned to write about either personal traumatic experiences (n = 23) or non-traumatic topics (n = 18) for 20 minutes once a week for four consecutive weeks.

RESULTS: Results indicate that individuals who wrote about upsetting personal experiences evidenced significant drops in selected blood measures compared to those who wrote about non-traumatic topics (e.g., for SGOT: 4.0% drop among traumatic topic group versus 13.1% increase among non-traumatic topic group, ANOVA p = .029; for SGPT: 24.5% drop versus 7.7% increase, p = .001). During the month of writing, traumatic topic group subjects evidenced a 28.6% reduction in absentee rates from work relative to the eight months before the experiment compared with a 48.5% increase in absentee rates among non-traumatic topic subjects (p = .04). Subjects low in emotional inhibition evidenced the greatest reductions in absentee rates following personal disclosure compared to those high in emotional inhibition (p = .011).

DISCUSSION: The proposed writing strategy offers a unique tool for health promotion practitioners.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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