Although expressing ones emotions through writing has numerous documented health benefits, it appears to do little to ease asthma, new study findings show.
This research contradicts an earlier, but smaller, study that found that people with asthma breathed more easily after writing about stressful experiences than after writing about neutral subjects.However, in the latest report in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, Dr. Alex H. S. Harris and his colleagues found that asthmatics showed no noticeable improvement after writing about stressful feelings.”Science is self-correcting,” Harris told Reuters Health. “Based on our study, one would conclude that writing doesn’t help asthma.”He added that while writing may seem like a harmless thing to try, there may be some risks associated with asking some people to write about traumatic experiences without any supervision.For that reason, he recommended holding off on prescribing expressive writing for patients with asthma. “Patients and doctors should wait until several well-controlled studies support an intervention before integrating it into a comprehensive disease management strategy,” said Harris, who is based at the Department of Veteran Affairs Health Care System and Stanford University in California.Previous research has suggested that writing for as little as three 20-minute sessions about upsetting experiences can improve short-term memory, reduce people’s need to call in sick from work, help them earn better grades in college, and cause them to schedule fewer visits to the doctor.A 1999 study showed that people with asthma who wrote about stressful experiences for 20 minutes per day for three days had better lung function than when they wrote about neutral topics, and those improvements lasted for months.To re-investigate the findings, Harris and his team asked 114 adults with asthma of equal severity to write about positive experiences, stressful experiences or neutral experiences — such as what they did the previous day — for 20 minutes per week for three weeks.People who had to write about stressful times reported feeling more upset, sad and angry than others.Contrary to the previous study, the researchers found that people writing about stressful experiences showed no improvements in lung function, compared with people who wrote about positive or neutral events.”The jury is out regarding the general health benefits of expressive writing,” Harris said.(Source: Psychosomatic Medicine, January/February 2005.)