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10 Ways Writing Helps You Heal

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Starting in elementary school, you’ve heard that writing your notes on paper can help you remember them—a fact that, while noteworthy, probably hasn’t stopped you from typing your to-do list, business correspondence, and personal messages, right? But scientists and career experts alike continue to prove the benefits of writing go far beyond the classroom. From making you happier to healing you physically, here are 10 amazing reasons why the pen is in fact mightier than the keyboard.

It Can Function as Therapy
A groundbreaking 2005 study showed that victims of trauma who wrote expressively about stressful events for 15 to 20 minutes three to five times over the course of a four-month period had an improvement in both physical and psychological health. Since then, many other studies have also demonstrated the mental health benefits of emotionally expressive writing with arthritis and chronic pain patients, medical students, maximum security prisoners, crime victims, and women after childbirth. 

It Can Help Your Career
“Keeping a journal is a great way to help you work through issues, analyze where you’re at in your job, and grow in your career,” according to career experts at The Muse. Use it to jot down ideas, note what professional skills you can improve, keep track of good advice from mentors, and think about opportunities for growth. 

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It Can Heal Wounds
In 2013, New Zealand researchers monitored the recovery of biopsy wounds on 49 healthy adults who wrote about their thoughts and feelings for just 20 minutes, three days in a row, two weeks before the biopsy. Eleven days later, 76 percent of the writing group had fully healed, while 58 percent of the control group had not. The study authors concluded that writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress. 

It Can Help You Remember Things
Research shows that the most effective way to study and retain new information is to write your notes by hand. A 2010 study from Indiana University found that neural activity in the brains of children receiving letter-learning instruction was far more enhanced and “adult-like” when the kids practiced printing the letters by hand than in those who simply looked at them. Another study from 2008 asked adults to distinguish between new characters and a mirror image of them. The adults had much longer-lasting recognition of the characters’ proper orientation when using pen-and-paper writing compared to using a computer keyboard.

It May Help You Write a Book
Many famous authors like Truman Capote and Vladimir Nabokov have professed to prefer writing by hand than by typing, but the evidence that paper-and-pen is more beneficial for writing a book isn’t only anecdotal. A 2009 study from the University of Washington found that elementary school students who wrote essays with a pen not only wrote more than their keyboard-tapping peers, but they also wrote faster and in more complete sentences. 

It Can Keep Your Mind Sharp
As a Duke University neuroscientist told the Wall Street Journal, "As more people lose writing skills and migrate to the computer, retraining people in handwriting skills could be a useful cognitive exercise." He adds that monitoring your handwriting can help diagnose memory issues if your it noticeably worsens.

It Will Help You Stand Out as a Job Candidate
After you interview for a job, sending an immediate email follow up is a smart idea, but it can often get buried in a busy person’s inbox. "In this day and age, when sadly we’re getting fewer and fewer letters in the mail, a handwritten thank you note, well-crafted on good stationery, will make a candidate stand out from others who chose not to take that extra, personal step," writes Jessica Kleiman, co-author of Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired and Rewarded at Work, on Forbes.com.

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It Can Cultivate Creativity
Even if you don’t think of yourself as a creative person, you may be surprised at what comes out when you put pen to paper. Whether you keep a notebook with you at all times or journal before you go to sleep, simply jotting down notes can help spark you creativity, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, writes on her blog. Rubin uses a process called “idea mapping,” which involves writing down ideas in a way that helps you see new relationships and possibilities. “I begin with a symbol or word in the center, and then map out my associations with that word—using single words and colored pens to keep the ideas vivid and clear. By mapping out my ideas, I get a new kind of insight into my own thoughts,” she explains. 

It Can Make You Happier
A 2011 study from Southern Methodist University asked undergraduates to write about one of four topics 20 minutes a day for four days. The researchers found that writing about life goals was associated with a significant increase in subjective wellbeing, as well as decreased illness when compared to the control group. Similarly, research has found that keeping a gratitude journal can increase happiness and health by making the good things in life more salient.

It Keeps You Organized
Many experts agree that paper to-do list is more efficient than an electronic version. As Jenny Englert, a senior cognitive engineer at Xerox, tells Fast Company, “Paper provides a visual cue that persists spatially (it doesn’t disappear behind a computer screen).” It is also easier to edit wherever you are, and it’s harder, psychologically and physically, to let an item grow stale on a handwritten to-do list, especially if you’re crossing off other items around it, she adds. 

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