Keeping a diary or journal after divorce may improve heart health according to new research.
Researchers from the University of Arizona recruited a representative sample of 109 men and women who had separated from or divorced their spouses a few months beforehand.
The study participants were assessed mentally and physically and then separated into three groups. Each of these was then assigned a different writing task to be completed over three days, 20 minutes at a time.
One group was told to write down their deepest feelings about the separation. The second was told to do the same, but in a narrative form with a distinct beginning, middle and end. Finally, the third group was asked to jot down their day-to-day activities and experiences but told to do so simply and without emotion.
The participants later returned for two follow-up visits, during which their health was again assessed. At the second visit, around eight months later, researchers ascertained that members of the second group, who had written down their feelings in a narrative form, had a lower heart rate than members of the other two groups. In addition, members of the second group were found to have greater variations in their heart rate, meaning their bodies were showing greater adaptability to their environment, a sign of good health.
Psychology doctoral student and lead author of the study Kyle Bourassa explained that the link to heart health most likely reflected greater calm and physiological balance amongst participants in the second group.
“To be able to create a story in a structured way — not just re-experience your emotions but make meaning out of them — allows you to process those feelings in a more physiologically adaptive way.”
Creating a narrative may have helped members of the second group to gain a greater understanding of their experiences, he added, leaving them more ready to move forward as a result, “rather than simply spinning and re-experiencing the same negative emotions over and over.”
The study is due to be published in the academic journal Psychosomatic Medicine.