The Important Part: An article in the June issue of Scientific America rounds up some recent studies that suggest blogging and other forms of self-expression shared on the Internet may provide therapeutic benefits.
Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.
Observation: The article was posted a couple of weeks ago, but I discovered it while looking for information about some work done by Harvard Professor Alice Flaherty on “hypergraphia” (an uncontrollable urge to write) and writer’s block (an uncontrollable urge NOT to write). Flaherty also looks to disease models to explain the drive behind blogging. â€œWe believe something in the brainâ€™s limbic system is boosting (people with certain manias’) desire to communicate,â€ Flaherty told Scientific American. Located mainly in the midbrain, the limbic system controls our drives, whether they are related to food, sex, appetite, or problem solving. â€œYou know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,â€ Flaherty notes. Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art.
The article explores the possible role blogging and other forms of expressive writing could play in the treatment of cancer. “Whatever the underlying causes may be, people coping with cancer diagnoses and other serious conditions are increasingly seekingâ€”and findingâ€”solace in the blogosphere. ‘Blogging undoubtedly affords similar benefitsâ€ to expressive writing, says Nancy Morgan (the author of a major study on the subject), who wants to incorporate writing programs into supportive care for cancer patients.'”
If this is a topic that is of interest to you, I suggest also the book, “Patient Siggy: Hope and Healing in Cyberspace,” (Amazon) by my Nashville friend, Sigorney Cheek. In it, she recounts the development of — and healing power of — an online community that grew from the e-mails she shared during her journey through cancer treatment.