Stress, in addition to being itself and the result of itself, is also the cause of itself.
-Hans Selye

"Is the Pen Mightier Than the Pill?" from Spirituality and Health magazine (Fall 1999):

Please take out a pad of paper and a pen. Make that two pens, in case one runs dry. Find a place where you can have 20 minutes of privacy. Ready? Here's your assignment. Write about the most stressful event of your life. Continue writing until the 20 minutes are up. Tomorrow, do the same thing. You may write about the same topic or change topics. The important thing is to keep writing. If you need to fill time, repeat a previous topic, but don't stop early. Do the same thing the next day, three days in all.

Why are we suddenly giving our readers homework? What we just described is the exact exercise doctors used in a landmark mind-body health study that was published last spring in the Journal of the American Medical Association

. The people doing the writing were asthma patients and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, all outpatients whose clinical conditions were confirmed by medical examinations. A control group with the same diseases wrote about neutral topics. When the researchers evaluated their subjects' health four months later, 47% of those who had written about stressful experiences showed clinically significant improvement, while only 24% of the control group showed any improvement.

The researchers caution it's too early to begin prescribing this procedure, but journal writing has a long history as a spiritual practice, and so-called "expressive writing" is becoming a popular mind-body health intervention. We can only see one potentially unpleasant side effect of writer's cramp.

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