Expressive Writing can Boost Mental Health!

Author: Hope Evans

Expressive writing is a form of writing that is about the expression of emotions, thoughts, and moods. It allows individuals to express their deepest feelings and thoughts about an emotional or mental challenge. Expressive writing can behave like a story, but it can also be turbulent and unpredictable since spelling, punctuation, and other writing conventions are unimportant. Expressive writing allows individuals to let go and explore what is affecting them.

There is a direct link between expressive writing and wellness, considering you are writing about how you feel about an event, more so than the event that is happening or has happened. Dr. James Pennebaker, at the Chari of Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, was the first to discover the connection between expressive writing and wellness. He developed an expressing writing prompt to assist with discovering the connections between health and expressing writing. This prompt and subsequent studies are often discussed and referred to as the Pennebaker Paradigm, which has shown to improve distress in individuals exposed to stressful events.

Expressive writing can help people cope with emotions from things such as a breakup, moving cities, traumatic events, diagnosis of a severe illness, grief, loss of a job, and those struggling with ongoing or critical mental health challenges, such as PTSD or depression. There are plenty of famous writers who have been known to experience depression. Some of those authors are James Baldwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, and J.K. Rowling.

Avoiding, inhibiting, or obsessively ruminating about unpleasant or psychologically upsetting experiences and emotions or suppressing your thoughts makes your body tense, your mood negative, yields no answers, impairs cognition and can lead to mental health issues. By actively confronting these feelings and events through writing, people feel better, they can gain perspective about the experience, and construct a coherent narrative of what occurred, allowing the person to heal.

Expressive writing has been found to:

  1. Boost mood/affect

  2. Enhance sense of well-being

  3. Reduce symptoms of depression and stress levels

  4. Reduce intrusion and avoidance symptoms post-trauma

  5. Improve working memory

  6. Lower blood pressure and improve lung and liver functioning

If you would like to try expressive writing, some tips to get you started are:

  1. Find a place where you will be comfortable and won’t be disturbed

  2. Choose a timeframe that you will write continuously for such as 15 minutes

  3. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation

  4. Write about something personal and important to you that you can handle now; don’t write about trauma too soon after it has happened if it feels overwhelming.

  5. Include your feelings and emotions in your writing

  6. Don’t censor yourself

  7. If you like music, put on a playlist to help with the writing process

  8. In the end, re-read your writing and reflect on it to see if anything surprising or unexpected pops out at you

While expressive writing is a great free, simple, and readily available way to help take care of your mental health, there are other medically proven ways to assist with managing mental health, such as medications and therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy. If you feel you need more assistance to help maintain your mental health, reach out for support from qualified professionals.

Ashleigh Diserio Consulting works with individuals and organizations, assisting them in gleaning insight into a person’s life, motivation, and past and future behavior, so certain areas of behavior can be understood with a high degree of accuracy. We provide services in the areas of criminal and intelligence investigations, management support, threat assessment, insider threat support, and education and training.