When a marriage or relationship ends, you can often feel the pain directly in your heart. Although many assume breakups just have an emotional impact, these periods in your life can take toll on your health both mentally and physically. However, a recent study found that narrative expressive writing after you call it quits can help your heart heal — literally.
According the research published in the journal Psychometric Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, this specific form of writing can help with your heart's health postdivorce. However, the research found that expressive writing after a relationship ends only helps improve your cardiovascular health if your journaling tells a full story.
"To be able to create a story in a structured way — not just reexperience your emotions but make meaning out of them — allows you to process those feelings in a more physiologically adaptive way," lead study author Kyle Bourassa said, according to the University of Arizona. "This structure can help people gain an understanding of their experience that allows them to move forward rather than simply spinning and reexperiencing the same negative emotions over and over."
The study split 109 participants who were newly divorced into three groups. One set of participants was asked to write about their relationship and breakup experience. The next group was asked to write about their situation but in the form of a narrative so that the story had a beginning, middle, and end. The final group was just told to write about their daily activities with no focus on their emotions or relationships.
Participants were only tasked with spending 20 minutes per day journaling for only three consecutive days. Researchers evaluated each participant's cardiovascular health at the beginning of the experiment and during follow-up visits during the following months. Eight months after journaling, scientists found that those in the expressive narrative group had lower heart rates as well as higher heart rate variability, which is associated with good heart health.
"We know that changes in heart rate and heart rate variability can affect health and even disease outcomes over time, and our study provides causal evidence that specific styles of writing can alter these physiological processes," Kyle said. "One short intervention — 20 minutes over three days — translated to these measurable effects. If larger studies replicate these findings in the future, this would be an evidence-based tool that could be widely used for people struggling with divorce."
So if you're heartbroken, grab your pen and paper and consider expressing your emotions in a productive way — it can help you heal and improve your health!