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Sharing Stories Can Ease Symptoms of Illness

Sharing stories helps people cope.

When times are tough, it can feel good to share stories and feelings. Research says that for people dealing with a health journey, both telling and listening to stories can help them cope and even reduce symptoms of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure and other conditions.

Caregivers can use this knowledge to help their loved ones express themselves in ways that may unburden them.

Putting Things into Perspective

“When people are confronted by a traumatic or difficult situation or major transition, creating a narrative about it helps you think through what happened and put things in perspective,” says Jenna Baddeley, a psychologist at the Charleston V.A. Medical Center in South Carolina.

“Storytelling also helps people feel like they’ve been able to pass on something of worth to others, and that’s universally helpful.”

Writing to Stay Positive

Expressive writing can be particularly helpful as well, says Baddeley. Many studies found that just 15 minutes of directed writing every day can have all sorts of benefits, from a boost in feelings of well-being to fewer illness-related doctor’s visits.

Not all storytelling is cathartic, though. Dwelling on negatives can be detrimental. And unloading intense emotions on others can become uncomfortable for listeners.

Instead, Baddeley has found that people who focus on their silver linings reap the biggest rewards from expressive writing. The act of writing can also help people organize their feelings in more productive ways – even when no one is available to listen.

Make the Most of Your Writing Time

Experts offer these tips for writing to achieve catharsis:

  • Find a time at the end of the day that you can set aside 15 minutes for at least three days in a row.
  • Once you start, ignore grammar and punctuation and try to write continuously. You can make corrections later if you want to.
  • Let go – write about your deepest thoughts and emotions.
  • Don’t try to force optimism, but writing about what you’ve learned from an experience may be helpful.
  • Plan to throw away what you write when you’re done (even if you end up keeping it).

For more information on the benefits of storytelling, visit The Healing Story Alliance site.

How Has Sharing Stories Helped You or a Loved One?

Has telling or writing stories helped you or someone you know weather a difficult time? Please let us know about your experience.


About the Author:

Emily Sohn is a science writer based in Minneapolis.

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