Stress from a divorce could harm heart health, but a new study from researchers at the University of Arizona has found that narrative journaling could help boost the cardiovascular system.
The study, published May 8 in Psychosomatic Medicine, was based on 109 separated or divorced men and women who split from their spouses about three months before the research began.
Researchers divided participants randomly into three groups—a traditional expressive writing group, a narrative expressive writing group and a non-emotion writing group. Each group wrote in their designated style for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days. The researchers then assessed their physical and psychological health.
Results showed that participants who engaged in narrative expressive writing had a lower heart rate than the other two groups. Additionally, they had higher heart rate variability, which is associated with good cardiac health.
"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, the study’s lead author and a psychology doctoral student at the University of Arizona, in a statement. "The explicit instructions to create a narrative may provide a scaffolding for people who are going through this tough time. 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."