Washington: People who keep a journal after divorce to write down the story of the end of their marriage may have a healthier heart, a new study suggests.
"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," said Kyle Bourassa, doctoral student at University of Arizona (UA) in the US.
The findings are based on a study of 109 separated or divorced men and women who split from their partners about three months, on average, before the start of the research.
Study participants were divided randomly into three groups. Those assigned to the traditional expressive writing group were told to write about their most deeply held feelings about their relationship and separation experience.
Those in the narrative expressive writing group also were told to write about their feelings about the divorce, but within the framework of a narrative with a definite beginning, middle and end - essentially telling the story of the end of their marriage.
A third group was simply asked to write non-emotionally about their day-to-day activities during the assigned writing period.
Participants in all three groups were instructed to write in their designated style for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days.
Researchers conducted assessments of participants' physical and psychological health at baseline - prior to their journaling - and at two follow-up visits.
At the second follow-up visit, about eight months later, participants who had engaged in narrative expressive writing had a lower heart rate than participants in the other two groups.
They also had higher heart rate variability, which refers to the variation in time between heartbeats and reflects the body's ability to adaptively respond to its environment and environmental stressors.
Both lower heart rate and higher heart rate variability are generally associated with good health.
"The explicit instructions to create a narrative may provide a scaffolding for people who are going through this tough time," said Bourassa, lead author of the paper published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
"This structure can help people gain an understanding of their experience that allows them to move forward, rather than simply spinning and re-experiencing the same negative emotions over and over," Bourassa added.