There is some old adage about the pen being mightier than the sword. Here is another reason why that phrase seems to stick around and last through the ages.
A new study has found that cancer patients could improve pain and quality of life by picking up a pen and writing in a diary. What to write? Jot down their emotions, how they are feeling… just get it out on paper so that they don’t stay bottled up inside.
It is technically called “narrative” medicine, if you can believe it. Experts consider it an important way for patients to communicate with their doctors, as the truth doesn’t always emerge in face-to-face appointments.
But beyond that, simply writing may help patients get in touch with their own feelings and needs. That is what the team of researchers considered in a study of 234 cancer patients. Each person performed narrative writing, filled out a questionnaire about pain or just received standard care. Each patient had at least moderate pain.
The narrative writing group spent 20 minutes a week for three weeks describing how cancer had affected their lives. Each week, researchers gave all patients a regular questionnaire about how they were feeling and how much pain they were in. That is how the study kept track of whose quality of life was improving.
Overall, patients keeping the pseudo-diary had less pain and greater well-being than the others. They were able to come to grips with their symptoms, understand them, get them off their chest and better deal with them. But there was a catch: people who wrote without emotion, just sticking to facts and not getting too personal, didn’t have these effects. It was those who wrote with emotion, really getting to the heart of the matter, who had a better quality of life.
The researchers believe that the emotional release the patients experienced while writing directly helped them better deal with their cancer pain. Future studies will address whether seriously ill cancer patients would benefit from revealing their emotions on paper. Also, future studies may look at whether describing one’s feelings out loud could have the same effect.
In the meantime, if you are suffering chronic health problems that are depressing your quality of life, try to write about them in an honest manner. See if it helps. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t.