James Lee-Milne, writes “If a man has no constant lover who shares his soul as well as his body he must have a diary – a poor substitute but better than nothing”.
Personally it’s a bit of a challenge for me to record anything more entertaining, or enlightening, than “got up, went to work, came home went to bed” ; “Ate six curly wurly’s, feel awful, diet’s down the pan again” ; “It rained again today”. But there are many interesting diaries out there to read and maybe even the most mundane of entry can keep you sane?
Ian Sample, science correspondent Guardian, writes………
Dear diarists take heart. Writing about your feelings can help the brain overcome emotional upsets and leave you feeling happier, psychologists have found.
Brain scans on volunteers showed that putting feelings down on paper reduces activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions.
Psychologists who discovered the “Bridget Jones effect” said it worked whether people elaborated on their feelings in a diary, penned lines of poetry, or even jotted down song lyrics to express their negative emotions.
Matthew Lieberman, a psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, said the effect differs from catharsis, which usually involves coming to terms with an emotional problem by seeing it in a different light.
When people wrote about their feelings, medical scans showed that their brain activity matched that seen in volunteers who were consciously trying to control their emotions.
“Writing seems to help the brain regulate emotion unintentionally. Whether it’s writing things down in a diary, writing bad poetry, or making up song lyrics that should never be played on the radio, it seems to help people emotionally,” Dr Lieberman said.
The psychologists investigated the effect by inviting volunteers to visit the lab for a brain scan before asking them to write for 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Half of the participants wrote about a recent emotional experience, while the other half wrote about a neutral experience.
Those who wrote about an emotional experience showed more activity in part of the brain called the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which in turn dampened down neural activity linked to strong emotional feelings.
Men seemed to benefit from writing about their feelings more than women, and writing by hand had a bigger effect than typing, Dr Lieberman said.
“Men tend to show greater benefits and that is a bit counterintuitive. But the reason might be that women more freely put their feelings into words, so this is less of a novel experience for them. For men it’s more of a novelty,” Lieberman said.
The study showed that writing about emotions in an abstract sense was more calming than describing them in vivid language, which could make people feel more upset by reactivating their original feelings.
The findings suggest that keeping a diary, making up poetry and scribbling down song lyrics can help people get over emotional distress.
The study raises the issue of why so many writers, from Martin Amis to Michel Houellebecq are not the jolliest of souls. “What we don’t know is: what would that person would be like if they weren’t writing?”Lieberman said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009