Writing to Heal Dr James Pennebaker

Research shows writing has health benefits...

For nearly 20 years, Dr. James W. Pennebaker has been giving people an assignment: write down your deepest feelings about an emotional upheaval in your life for 15 or 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Many of those who followed his simple instructions have found their immune systems strengthened. Others have seen their grades improved. Sometimes entire lives have changed. Dr. James Pennebaker

Pennebaker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and author of several books, including “Opening Up” and “Writing to Heal,” is a pioneer in the study of using expressive writing as a route to healing. His research has shown that short-term focused writing can have a beneficial effect on everyone from those dealing with a terminal illness to victims of violent crime to college students facing first-year transitions.

“When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health,” Pennebaker says. “They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it’s been a very beneficial experience for them.”

In his early research Pennebaker was interested in how people who have powerful secrets are more prone to a variety of health problems. If you could find a way for people to share those secrets, would their health problems improve?

It turned out that often they would, and that it wasn’t even necessary for people to tell their secrets to someone else. The act of simply writing about those secrets, even if they destroyed the writing immediately afterward, had a positive effect on health. Further studies showed that the benefits weren’t just for those who had dramatic secrets, but could also accrue to those who were dealing with divorces, job rejections or even a difficult commute to work.

“Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives,” Pennebaker explains. “You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are—our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.”

Our minds are designed to try to understand things that happen to us. When a traumatic event occurs or we undergo a major life transition, our minds have to work overtime to try to process the experience. Thoughts about the event may keep us awake at night, distract us at work and even make us less connected with other people.

When we translate an experience into language we essentially make the experience graspable. Individuals may see improvements in what is called “working memory,” essentially our ability to think about more than one thing at a time. They may also find they’re better able to sleep. Their social connections may improve, partly because they have a greater ability to focus on someone besides themselves.

To Read the rest of the article visit: University of Texas at Austin

Dr Pennebaker Writing To Heal

In this video, Dr. Friedman explores the link between creative endeavors, such as expressive writing, and reduced symptoms and improved health.

Unconditional Positive Regard -- the power of self acceptance - Michelle Charfen

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Michelle shares her personal journey towards Unconditional Positive Regard and self acceptance through the lens of parenting. This is a story about relationships and ultimately the relationship you have with yourself.

The Artist's Way

The Artist's Way is a book by Julia Cameron and I run sessions for people who are interested in exploring the book as a creative, self development process.

One of our chief needs as creative beings is support. Unfortunately, this can be hard to come by. Ideally we would be nurtured and encouraged first by our nuclear family and then by ever-widening circles of friends, teachers well-wishers." Julia Cameron.

It is with this idea of supporting one another as creative beings, and connecting with a similar interest, that I am offering sessions to explore The Artist's Way. While the Artist's Way title would tend to give the impression that the book is for people who do art. However, it isn't just that it is about our creative life - so whether you love to cook, sculpt, write, draw, do art, make music, sew - whatever your creative expression is, then this book is for you.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect,
but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.
The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
Carl Jung
(quote from The Artist's Way)

Make a Difference through becoming Mindful

When we start to become mindful of our actions and live life from our values, every day we get a chance to make a difference in our world. The way we approach life, the way we treat people we come in contact with every day, we get a chance to make a difference. A small kindness, a smile, a thoughtful gesture, a helping hand, a thank you, listen to someone and don't interrupt, simply listen to listen (it's a lot harder than it sounds).

Your take action challenge: write a thank you postcard - an old fashioned, write on paper, put a stamp on it and snail mail it. Get creative and have fun.

Values - and Values Cards

Values are what we find meaningful in life. They are what you care about and consider to be important. Values are different for everybody, and they can change over time. Values are different from goals. Put crudely, goals can be ‘achieved’ whereas values are more like compass directions that we want to head in.

For example we might have the goal of getting our children to school on time, which sits within the value of ‘being a good parent’, or the goal of going for a jog while placing value upon exercise and physical health. The domains below are valued by some people. Leaving aside any obstacles for the moment, think about what is important to you, and what you think makes for a meaningful life that you could value.

Relationships: What kind of relationships do you want to have with your family? What sort of brother / sister / mother / father / aunt / uncle / neice / nephew do you want to be? How do you want to be in those relationships?

Partner:What kind of husband / wife / partner do you want to be? What kind of relationship do you want to be a part of? What sort of partnership do you want to build? What kind of person do you want to be in a relationship?

Parent:What sort of parent do you want to be? What qualities do you want your children to see in you? What kind of relationships do you want to build with them?

Friendship:What sort of friend do you want to be? What friendships is it important to cultivate? How would you like to act towards your friends? What kind of social life matters to you?
Info by Dr Whaley

And so as you think about the various areas that you may be connected to in your life, whether it be work, personal relationships, spirituality or sport, if you start to think along the lines of your values, how do you want to be in life? Where do you want to put your energy. How do you wish to be as a person?

"Our lives revolve around relationships - with ourselves, others, and everything we encounter in the world around us. The more you act in line with your values, the better will be the quality of those relationships and therefore the more enjoyable and rewarding your life will be." ~ Dr Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap)

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and the subject of comfort came up. We realised that her value of comfort varied widely from her partner's. I personally like a certain degree of comfort, I'm not one of those who could go and rough it on a walking trail or camping without many everyday comforts. What about you?

"Many people find that when they realign their life with their core values, they feel reborn, with greater passion for life and more satisfaction than ever before." Kotzman and Kotzman ~ in Listen to Me Listen to You.

In my relationship counselling sessions, I ask couples to consider what their values are, and they go home with a values exercise to do. When they come in for the next session, we then discuss the values they came up with. It is so fascinating, to many people when they realise that a lot of their time and energy has been going into areas, that they don't hold as important values. Sometimes they realise that their behaviour has even been going against what they hold dear to them. Often when they start putting their time and energy into what they value, they immediately start to feel happier and more content with their lives.

I've created values cards and have included some of them below if you would like to take part in a values exercise. You can save the image and then print it out. You'll find a blank card so that you can add your own values. Pick 10 values that are important to you, then after a day or so, pick 5 from that list to apply to the area of life you would like to focus on.

Julian Treasure: Shh! Sound health in 8 steps

Julian Treasure says our increasingly noisy world is gnawing away at our mental health -- even costing lives. He lays out an 8-step plan to soften this sonic assault (starting with those cheap earbuds) and restore our relationship with sound.

Disconnect to Connect Today

Now I love technology, computers and smart phones, as much as the next person. In fact, I wouldn't be writing this blog without my computer. However, I've noticed that our love affair with technology, is stopping us from making some very important, face to face connections.

Are you able to fully attend to your partner, or child without checking your phone or computer? At a recent function I attended, 8 out of 10 people sat and looked at their phones, rather than interact with each other. Are you able to go to dinner and give your full attention to your dinner companions, and not check your phone?

In the video below, Catherine Steiner-Adair asks us to consider whether we have become addicted to technology... "Is your primary relationship with your phone? Why do you think more about where your phone is, rather than where anybody else is?"

More and more people are attending counselling facing the problem of the great disconnect. Technology, while it is bringing some great changes to our lives, is also bringing some problems. Problems such as disconnection from family and friends and, addiction.

"Technology - we're letting it take us places we don't want to go." Sherry Turkle

Do you find yourself constantly visit one particular site, or spend hours online? Are you constantly checking your phone? Are your children getting your attention, or is the phone/computer getting your attention? Children know what is important - what is important to you, is where you put your attention and time.

Do you wake up in the middle of the night to check your phone or go on the internet? I want to invite you to start to become aware of your habits. I invite you to notice the ways technology is disconnecting you, from those who are important around you. I invite you to switch off for hours a day. Can you?

Mindfulness & A Mindful Practice: The R.A.I.N technique

"Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives.
It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment..." - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Over the last few years I have been practicing mindfulness and have found it to be of great benefit. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is simply the practice of being present in the moment. Have you ever stopped and paused, and brought your awareness totally to the present moment? We all have at some point, perhaps it was a sunset that almost took your breath away, holding a baby and being mesmerized by their tiny toes or hands, maybe it was looking at a flower or at an animal?

About mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn

A mindfulness practice:

RAIN - Cultivating a Mindful Awareness

The acronym RAIN is a powerful tool for interrupting habitual patterns of emotional reactivity and discovering the freedom of an awake, compassionate presence. This talk explores the components of RAIN, how it works, what makes it transformational and typical challenges people encounter. The teachings include a guided RAIN meditation.

"Recognising and allowing is the heart of mindfulness practice". Tara Brach.


R - Recognising - "What is happening inside me right now?" - Just name it.

A - Allowing - "Can I be with this?" If you just pause and ask these two questions, you will be more awake. Recognising and allowing, creates a pause. Instead of tumbling into a reactive behaviour, whether it is eating a bowl of ice cream or rushing into responding to an email, or whatever it is, in the recognising and allowing, we've paused...

'Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in that space is your power and your freedom' Viktor Frankl.

If you can pause,

in the middle of very habitual behaviour,
you have more choice.

The R and the A, create a pause, and they enable you to begin to investigate (21.35).

I - Investigate - we begin to investigate with interest and friendliness.

"What am I believing?" - don't go searching, don't get stuck in thinking... if something arises allow it.

Have you noticed how much you go around through the day, trying to figure out what is going on?

RAIN can get hijacked by the figuring out mind. It is very skillful to ask 'what am I believing?' Because, whenever we are suffering, there is a limiting belief, (25.38) and if you can identify it, that can bring a whole constellation of what is going on, and less identification.

If there is judgement when you are investigating, it won't work. (26.34) The part of you that is most vulnerable and needs the most work, will hide in the shadows. The only thing that will dissolve judgement that we have in such great supply, is a very purposeful quality of gentleness and kindness.

So Investigate, with an intimate attention.

You can't manufacture kindness, but you can intend it. Because your wisdom knows that is what is needed. (27.46)

Investigate, "What does this part of me need?" But again be aware of going into thinking.

Sometimes we go through the RAIn process and may get to R or A or I, and may not get to the N part of the process. Almost what is important is not getting to the end, but more the intention, and the valuing of pausing and deepening our attention. (36.20)

You can trust,
anytime, you are caught in an old pattern, (36.27)
and you pause, and even just for a few moments, say well 'what's going on?'
'can I be with this?'
that you are beginning a 'rewiring'.
The neuro-circuitry is beginning to change.(36.43)

You are changing habits, even with the lightest version of an incomplete RAIn

Mindfulness helps, and this is mindfulness.

A few challenges people come up with when doing this. What if when you check in, investigating, you can't find felt sense, or you can't even feel your body very much? What I would encourage, in the investigating is just to invite the feelings to be there, and notice what happens and don't worry if you can't connect with your body. Scan through your body, try to notice, but just putting out the inquiry, 'What is happening', 'where do I feel this?' - doing this over and over, it is the invitation that counts. Attention is what counts, in doing this process you are beginning to bring attention to what's there.

Bring kindness to this - bring compassion - as you would to a child.

N - Natural Awareness - Not Identify - There’s nothing to do for this last part of RAIN—realization arises spontaneously, on its own. We simply rest in natural awareness

I hold this too with loving kindness

Viktor Frankl

How To Make Stress Your Friend

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

Part of the Transcript: I want to tell you about one of the most under-appreciated aspects of the stress response, and the idea is this: Stress makes you social.

7:48 (numbers at the side relate to the time on the video) - To understand this side of stress, we need to talk about a hormone, oxytocin, and I know oxytocin has already gotten as much hype as a hormone can get. It even has its own cute nickname, the cuddle hormone, because it's released when you hug someone. But this is a very small part of what oxytocin is involved in. Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone. It fine-tunes your brain's social instincts. It primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships. Oxytocin makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family. It enhances your empathy. It even makes you more willing to help and support the people you care about. Some people have even suggested we should snort oxytocin... to become more compassionate and caring.

But here's what most people don't understand about oxytocin. It's a stress hormone. Your pituitary gland pumps this stuff out as part of the stress response. It's as much a part of your stress response as the adrenaline that makes your heart pound. And when oxytocin is released in the stress response, it is motivating you to seek support. Your biological stress response is nudging you to tell someone how you feel, instead of bottling it up. Your stress response wants to make sure you notice when someone else in your life is struggling so that you can support each other. When life is difficult, your stress response wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you.

9:32 - Okay, so how is knowing this side of stress going to make you healthier? Well, oxytocin doesn't only act on your brain. It also acts on your body, and one of its main roles in your body is to protect your cardiovascular system from the effects of stress. It's a natural anti-inflammatory. It also helps your blood vessels stay relaxed during stress.

But my favorite effect on the body is actually on the heart. Your heart has receptors for this hormone, and oxytocin helps heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage. This stress hormone strengthens your heart. And the cool thing is that all of these physical benefits of oxytocin are enhanced by social contact and social support. So when you reach out to others under stress, either to seek support or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress. I find this amazing, that your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.

10:50 - I want to finish by telling you about one more study. And listen up, because this study could also save a life. This study tracked about 1,000 adults in the United States, and they ranged in age from 34 to 93, and they started the study by asking, "How much stress have you experienced in the last year?" They also asked, "How much time have you spent helping out friends, neighbors, people in your community?" And then they used public records for the next five years to find out who died.

11:26 - Okay, so the bad news first: For every major stressful life experience, like financial difficulties or family crisis, that increased the risk of dying by 30 percent. But -- and I hope you are expecting a "but" by now -- but that wasn't true for everyone. People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Zero. Caring created resilience. And so we see once again that the harmful effects of stress on your health are not inevitable.

How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience. Now I wouldn't necessarily ask for more stressful experiences in my life, but this science has given me a whole new appreciation for stress.

Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you strength and energy. And when you choose to view stress in this way, you're not just getting better at stress, you're actually making a pretty profound statement. You're saying that you can trust yourself to handle life's challenges. And you're remembering that you don't have to face them alone.

Vidoe and transcript from Ted.com - talks Kelly McGonigal

Photo K Fellows

The mindful way through depression: Zindel Segal at TEDxUTSC

The mindful way through depression: Zindel Segal at TEDxUTSC

The Space Between Self Esteem and Self Compassion

Treating ourselves the same way we would a good friend.

The Case for Emotional Hygiene

"We'll go to the doctor when we feel flu-ish or a nagging pain. So why don’t we see a health professional when we feel emotional pain: guilt, loss, loneliness? Too many of us deal with common psychological-health issues on our own, says Guy Winch. But we don’t have to. He makes a compelling case to practice emotional hygiene — taking care of our emotions, our minds, with the same diligence we take care of our bodies."

Starting the New Year

The New Year - I think we all know about New Year's resolutions - and have probably attempted one or two things in the past - some we may have followed up and others not at all. We start out with ideas about how this year will be different - ah well I'm sure you know the scenario, I've been meaning to go to the gym for 2 years now, and get back to Tai Chi - what's your ones?

At the turning of the new year this year I watched a couple of webinars on New Year's Vision for 2015. For those wondering what a webinar is, a webinar is a seminar held on the internet alias the web - hence the name webinar. One of the webinar's that I watched was the webinar by Mary Morrissey. Mary is a lifecoach in the USA. (Mary Morrissey.com)

One of the questions that Mary asked in her webinar was: What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my personal growth in 2015? I was thinking... well one of mine is listening to webinars like this. About a moment after thinking that Mary said something along the lines of, 'perhaps it is listening to a webinar like this!'

I invite you to join me if you wish. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and write your answer to...

  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my personal growth in 2015?

    I had a few other answers that started to pop up around that question. Then I started thinking about various areas that I could apply that question to... At times like this I tend to use a tool like the wellness wheel. The wellness wheel can vary as to what is most important in your life, and is just a matter of adapting it to suit.

    The Wellness Wheel

    As I looked at the wellness wheel, I adapted Mary's question to suit the segment.

  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my spiritual life in 2015?
  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my social life in 2015?
  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my emotional life in 2015?
  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my intellectual life in 2015?
  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my environmental life in 2015?
  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my physical life in 2015?
  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my occupational life in 2015?

    I realized working with this wellness wheel, that it was missing out on creativity, a large part of my wellness - so I started to create my own wheel. And then, doing that, I wondered - where did my family fit into my wellness wheel picture? I have included my family in my version of the wellness wheel.

  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my family life in 2015?
  • What is one thing that I am doing to invest in my creative life in 2015?

    So this year I start into the New Year, working with 'what one thing am I doing' question as a focus I invite you to join in, with me, and thousands of others who have taken part in Mary Morrissey's question.

    If you would like to take up the invitation, write that one thing down... and then... what steps can you take, to bring your one thing into an action. Oh and if you would like to visit Mary's website - here is the link; Mary Morrissey.com

    Happy New Year - may you create something wonderful for yourself, your family and our world.