September 11, 2004

Personal Blogging, a Health Hazard?

by Andrew Stern · , 5:02 pm

Speaking of NPR, I just learned from one of my favorite radio news sources about some UK research which found that those who keep personal diaries are ruining their health.

[R]egular diarists were more likely than non-diarists to suffer from headaches, sleeplessness, digestive problems and social awkwardness. Their finding challenges assumptions that people find it easier to get over a traumatic event if they write about it.

“We expected diary keepers to have some benefit, or be the same, but they were the worst off,” says Elaine Duncan of the Glasgow Caledonian University. “In fact, you’re probably much better off if you don’t write anything at all,” she adds.

It’s not clear to me if this is causation, or merely correlation — that is, are diarists diarists because they are troubled in the first place? (Well, not all diarists are troubled, of course, at least no more than the rest of us.) But, if keeping a diary is in fact deleterious, I wonder if this also applies to personal blogging — blogs that focus a lot on the writer’s personal life (e.g. 1 2 3 4, versus broader discussion forums like this blog).

Reasons I could imagine these alleged ill-health effects would *not* apply to personal bloggers: unlike traditional diaries, blogs are not private, and therefore the catharsis achieved from writing them may be of a different nature; and many blogs allow comments, which lead them to be more like group therapy than self-analysis.

8 Responses to “Personal Blogging, a Health Hazard?”

  1. Jill Says:

    Well, actually she said you were better off not writing at all.

    Soon students will start suing us for making them write… “But they KNEW it was bad for us and didn’t tell us!”

  2. andrew Says:

    I was speculating that perhaps it’s not deleterious to write if the writing is done in a public forum like blog, not a private one. But it’s just a guess.

    I remember reading somewhere that statistically speaking, talk therapy itself is also considered to be a wash, but I can’t remember who said it or if it was a reliable / believable source.

  3. Elin Says:

    Hmm – this is kind of insulting? “Diarist troubled because they are troubled in the first place”? Blanket statement, don’t you think. Was Anne Frank troubled, or, did she have a troubling situation? Who are these researchers and How did they run their research?

    I hope you don’t mind, but since my blog is mentioned here, I must immediately point out that my blog doesn’t really open up my private personal life: I don’t exactly spell out my secrets, no matter how tempting it can be at times. (Ask Jill if you must, I spell them out to her sometimes:-)

    I write about humorous events or interesting observations, not so much about my innermost feelings, although my posts come alive because I care about the subject in one way or the other. Under no circumstance do I consider myself a “diarist” – there is nothing diary like about my blog: It is a place for a collection of fragmented, flavorful stories, based on my experiences. Mr. Teen is based on a real character and so is the rat chaser with a tail and four orange quick feet, but the stories are somewhat fictionalized and when they are not, it is only due to the fact that truth is stranger than fiction: I therefore do not have to alter them to keep a reader’s attention. BloggerdyDoc is NOT a day-to-day publication. I mean, look at the time gaps between my socalled “productivity”! Gasp. I suck as a diarist. It’s quite horrific. (Hope that is ok, by the way.) Blogging to me is time consuming because unlike a diarist, I actually rework and rewrite my post (prior to posting, of course).

    I agree that blogging for some might have a therapeutic effect. But in my own case, not so many non-spammers comment on my blog at all. Now I worry that the world must think I am slightly troubled after being named in this post (shame on you Andrew:-) – and because I have so few steady commenters on my blog, surely I am missing out on the therapeutic effect.

    I quite prefer that my claim to fame will involve something more tasty – like being a creative, interesting writer, not the keeper of a deleterious blog. Outch!

  4. Elin Says:

    (I meant to say “based on my experiences, or not. ” up there )

  5. BloggerdyDoc Says:
    ~ BloggerdyDoc: Deleterious?~
    Hmm – this is kind of insulting? At Grandtextauto, my friend Andrew mentions some odd research on troubled diarists. I posted a response there, but then decided to repost my comment on my own blog. Andrew mentioned my blog as…

  6. andrew Says:

    Hi Elin. No insults intended, certainly! The blogs I linked to, including yours, are my among favorites that as I characterized them, “focus a lot on the writer’s personal life” — but you’re right, are often quite different from diaries. Some, like yours, are not nearly as personal, private or regular as a traditional diary. In fact one of the cool things about your blog and other well-written “personal” blogs is how you only give tantalizing hints at your life, some which are stylized or fictionalized. Many, like yours, don’t give the impression of “troubled”, but rather, “interesting.”

    Is there a more approrpriate term to use than “personal”, for blogs that draw a lot of material from one’s personal life?

    Also, I tried to be careful to suggest that even if one is a diarist, that doesn’t mean he or she is troubled. (Well, at least not initially, if that research is to be believed.)

    Look on the bright side Elin, maybe the link to your blog from this post could gain you additional readers… any press is good press, right? ;-)

    Perhaps this discussion is pointing to another way that personal blogs — even those that are very personal and revealing — are signficantly different than diaries: because they’re public, writers can stylize and fictionalize them, which who knows, may offer some interesting therapeutic effects, and further avoid the alleged deleterious ones?

  7. Jill Says:

    Wow. One of the two researchers behind the diary survey had also found that

    According to Dr David Sheffield at Staffordshire University, Rangers fans are more likely to suffer symptoms of stress, including headaches, anxiety, sleeplessness and feeling generally under the weather, than Celtic fans. Sunday Herald

    There might be a lot more behind this research, but I haven’t found anything online except press reports. Which is interesting: counting and comparing distress among two groups both of which are common in society is easy enough, and obviously has huge press appeal. That paragraph about the diarists has rld. Although the interpretations of the data are rather weak, based on the press reports:

    But [the researcher] acknowledges that her experiment could not demonstrate which came first – the diary writing or the health problems.

    Dr Duncan also points out that this study contradicts all previous studies. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means a lot of other research shows the opposite.

  8. C(h)ristine Says:

    …this comment, “writing diaries causes people to be depressed” reminds me of people who say “I can only write when I’m depressed,” or “writers are depressed”…because these are broad sweeping generalizations without a defined cause and further research! What if it’s just in the nature of “diaries” to uncover “private” truths?

    I used to say “I can only write when I’m depressed”…but then I realized that writing can go into a very pure and true part of communication, uncovering deep feelings…the kind we don’t air in public. Also — writing with an audience in mind (like blog-writing) is a sort of entertainment. And “entertaining” or “engaging” writing involves some sort of conflict (Really, could you bear to watch a screenplay that involves two happy people with NO problems? Or a novel where everyone is just happy and eats 3 square meals a day and “nothing” happens?).

    So perhaps it’s just the nature of blogging that unearths the writing of dramas, sadness, conflicts, etc…all the “uncomfortable” stuff that we don’t mention in our verbal pitter patter out there.

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