For anyone who has sat at their desk and written pages in their journal, or practiced handwriting in one of those coursebooks, you can attest to the curative powers of handwriting. Yes, while it may not be the most rigorous exercise, it is undeniably one of the best ways to build mental dexterity, provide a calming ritual to your daily life, and to overall enhance your mood. Which, in turn, has physiological effects for a variety of medical conditions.
Scientists are well aware of how the body and mind remain in constant dialogue with one another. The health of one can often dictate the health of the other. When it comes to writing, the benefits of having a pen in your hand may just be worth it.
First, it’s an effective way to reduce stress. Oftentimes, stress builds up in one’s mind due to not being able to understand or properly reflect on the underlying source of anxiety. By taking the time to write down the situation, our minds automatically begin to find a common narrative thread to easily understand the situation in a way that can be transposed on paper. This allows us to then be able to more acutely dissect the situation better. In short, simply writing down what’s bothering you, you have a greater capacity for approaching the situation in a way that makes it more manageable.
Stress reduction can lead to lower blood pressure, reduction in headaches, better sleep, better sex drive, and better skin. Even a prescription can’t promise all of that, but a pen and paper can!
Secondly, writing has the added benefit of better mental dexterity. By practicing one’s handwriting, you engage the parts of your brain that are most susceptible to memory loss. Actively practicing, even your signature in the margins of your notebook, can positively impact your muscle memory and overall brain functionality. Further, this same “muscle memory” is a helpful way in which many students study inherently. Studies show that writing notes versus typing on the computer. As Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA wrote in Psychology Today, those who simply type on a keyboard tend to write notes verbatim without processing information and reframing it in their own words as a notetaker would. This is a vital component of learning and memory building that is often lost in our tech-dependent world.
Finally, social relationships can also become healthier with continued writing practices. By taking the time to write letters or to journal about what you are grateful for, you become more appreciative of the things and people in your life. In turn, this has an outward effect towards your loved ones or colleagues, as the New York Times notes in their article “A Serving of Gratitude Brings Healthy Dividends”. Taking the time to acknowledge gratitude can ultimately lead to more pleasant interactions and stronger friendships, which, in itself, is a form of good health.
We go to the gym, see doctors and dentists, and eat well, but often our mental wellness takes a backseat to these more obvious physical expressions of good health. To pick up a pen is to make the commitment to try harder each day to improve. That, I think, is the healthiest goal one can have.