Here’s a story at odds with the stereotype of the depressed, ornery writer: psychology professor James Pennebaker has done research that shows that people are less depressed after writing for just 20 minutes a day for three days.
In her book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, excerpted on nymag.com, Dr. Susan David, PhD writes of Pennebaker’s work:
In each study, Pennebaker found that the people who wrote about emotionally charged episodes experienced marked improvement in their physical and mental well-being. They were happier, less depressed and less anxious. In the months after the writing sessions, they had lower blood pressure, improved immune function, and fewer visits to the doctor. They also reported better relationships, improved memory, and more success at work.
Dr. David makes clear the results are not only tied to putting finger to keyboard or pen to paper, but about doing the work of expressing yourself. “Talking into a voice recorder, for example, can deliver the same results,” she writes. She adds:
But after showing up, there’s another critical aspect of agility: Stepping out. Deeper analysis over the years shows that unlike brooders or bottlers, or those who let it all hang out in big venting rants, the writers who thrived the most began to develop insight, using phrases such as “I have learned,” “It struck me that,” “the reason that,” “I now realize,” and “I understand.” In the process of writing, they were able to create the distance between the thinker and the thought, the feeler and the feeling, that allowed them to gain a new perspective, unhook, and move forward.
Not sure what the book has to say about how writing on deadline or writing professionally impacts mental health, but you can read the full excerpt to find out.