More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Write it down, let go, feel way better
October 24, 2005
Tallahassee Democrat

Keeping a journal can be good for your health. Writing helps people reduce stress, concentrate better and handle emotionally demanding situations. It also can reduce the negative impact of traumatic experiences.

To reap the health rewards, writers should really "let go" and explore their thoughts and emotions.

"Research suggests that when people write about emotional upheavals in their lives, improvements in physical and psychological health can result," said James W. Pennebaker, chair of the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who has discovered the link between expressive writing and health benefits.

Writing reduces stress by helping people to acknowledge an experience, Pennebaker said. It also enables them to put together the pieces of an event and understand what happened.

By enabling clearer thinking, expressive writing helps individuals get past trauma. It also helps them improve their social relationships as they get better at talking, laughing and being more at ease with others, Pennebaker said.

Through writing, people are able to observe their patterns of behavior and how they handle various situations, said George Holmes, a psychologist at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

"If you have to write something, you have to sit down, reflect on the events, put them in some kind of order," he said. "And as you're doing that, there's a certain level of mastery of the situation or anxiety that occurs."

But although "spilling the guts" can be healthy in some situations, it might not be in other cases, according to Louise Sundararajan, a psychologist at Rochester Psychiatric Center in New York, who studied college students whose parents divorced.

Writing about neutral subjects can be beneficial, as long as the language used is appropriate to the context of what is being written, Sundararajan reported last month at a meeting of the American Psychological Association.

In some instances, when people are emotionally upset, it might be better to focus on things other than the trauma, Holmes said.

Creative expressions such as poetry also help people to capture moments and channel their feelings, said Holmes, a fledgling poet.

When journaling, people should experiment to see what kind of writing works best for them. Here are some suggestions from Pennebaker:

Find a time and place where you won't be disturbed. Ideally, pick a time at the end of your workday or before you go to bed.

Promise yourself that you will write for a minimum of 15 minutes a day for at least three or four consecutive days.

Once you begin writing, write continuously. Don't worry about spelling or grammar. If you run out of things to write about, just repeat what you have already written.

You can write longhand or you can type on a computer. If you are unable to write, you can also talk into a tape recorder.

Write about:

[*]Something that you are thinking or worrying about too much

[*]Something that you are dreaming about

[*]Something that you feel is affecting your life in an unhealthy way

[*]Something that you have been avoiding for days, weeks or years.
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I used to keep a journal when I was younger. It was so precious for me and had pictures of horses on it. :) It had a lock but i quickly found out privacy w/ my family doesn't really exist. I always had to hide the journal, so one piece of advice would be make sure no one has access to it if you are actually writing about whatever comes to your mind/issues in your life. I stopped writing in it eventually and started again maybe 1 1/2 yrs ago on my computer... I can lock the document so I know at least for once, privacy!! It can be so good for letting out your emotions, being able to be honest about things without having to worry about who might see it or what they might say in response. I tend to write more about the bad things, but either way I know lots of people who do some kind of journaling and it helps a lot to relieve stress etc. Personally, I don't think forcing yourself to write in it every day for ie. 10 min is the best idea (if you tend to be obessive about things in general) but I think the point is to try to make it a habit of some sort. It can also really help to look back at what you wrote- it's amazing how incoherrent or clear thoughts can be a day or so later!


Yeah I kept a journal as well but then it was found and destroyed in front of my face by someone who was mentioned in it! But it was a good idea :)

However now I sometimes write stuff down, how I am feeling or about a past event and I rip it up then and there but I feel better because I have taken it out of me you know!


David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Another version of that is writing letters or emails to someone that are never meant to be actually sent to them... that way, there's no need to censor what you say since no one can be hurt by your words.


yes, but don't write emails if you tend to press random buttons or are just clumsy or just have a weird computer, b/c before you know it you send off that email to the person you didn't want to send the email too, lol. it has happened... and you can't take emails back!!!
I've keeped a diary since I was a teenager, I put the good and bad things that happen to me each day and my thoughts on them, and I have a folder of those letters that you never send, I find writing very useful. I've another folder full of poetry and short stories, had a couple of poems published in the 1970s in a womens magazine.

I wouldn't write anything in a email if your with AOL, they have a send later button and sometimes when the software is playing up, email in that folder gets sent, I've had it happen to me!!! If its to another AOL member you can unsend it if they not read it.


Or...write the email, but don't put the address in....address the person or persons in the body of the email, just don't put their email addresses on the "To" line :eek:)


I used to journal years ago when i was first injured. It helped me to get through the doctors who said there wasn't anything wrong with me (yeah right 9 herinated and buldging discs one in contact with the cord and nothign was wrong???)

My primary care doc was a comp doc, but he was for me, and that helped, So between the journaling and going to him, I knnew he believed me, and his exams showed that I was feelign the pains that I was.

Sadly he died last year due to colon cancer. I see his partner at the practice, but sometimes I really miss him. He was really good to me.


Eunoia said:
yes, but don't write emails if you tend to press random buttons or are just clumsy or just have a weird computer, b/c before you know it you send off that email to the person you didn't want to send the email too, lol. it has happened... and you can't take emails back!!!

That is why you never put the actual email address in the TO: line.
We've all had that happen, when all of a sudden unexpectedly (or done on purpose) that email gets sent off...there is a OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!! What did I do moment or (I didn't mean to hit send, but I was leaning on my keyboard I guess and poof! Off it went. I had to do some pretty serious talking to get out of that one!)

I find keeping a journal of my thoughts very helpful. It releases my own anxieties, and afterwards I feel a weight lifted from my shoulders. During a panic attack, sometimes I sit and write out all that I'm feeling and why the attack is occuring. Once it passes, I feel so enlightened because I worked through the issues, figured things out and made it without all the bad things happening that I wrote about! Whether it be a fear of going grocery shopping, that build up of anxiety or a thought which triggers some worries, the key is understanding what it is that you're scared of and realizing that it's all in the head! Thought control and taking back the control of the anxiety. (Not sure if this is making sense, it does in my head but not sure how this reads...)

Another thing I do which helps alot is calling a friend and talking it out. Just having someone listen, to support you does help alot too.

Momof5, sorry for the loss of your therapist. I'm glad you're seeing another person though.

I finally started my journal writing again, I figure if my husband want to know whats going on then he can just look. That way he doesn't think im hiding anything.
hey ! i have been writing in a journal ever since i was starting to enter the adult age and when my parents decided to divorce so well it was my way out sort of like a confident . but then again it was read many times since but i always started another hoping that people would respect my confidentiality.. but then again it wasalways in life and death situations and my mom had no choice and it has been about a year no one looked in to it .. i find wirting a good way to exrpress yoursefl it is like another form of therapie were your doing your own therapi it helps you see what reality is for you to analyse yourself . and helps you rationalise and dedramatise.
so wel i highly recommend it


I bought a new journal today,one that I only plan on writing in when I am struggling with extremely intense emotions.

I have many journals,but I always kind of censor myself in them because I have a fear in the back of my mind that someone may read what I write. So I am careful about what I say,I hold back.

Today though,I decided what's the point if I am not going to write my true feelings,so I bought a new one.I also wrote in it.I was really upset over something and I sat down and started writing,I said exactly what I was thinking and feeling,completely uncensored. And then I cried for awhile.

It really did help,and I think I am going to keep the journal with me at all times,and when I am struggling,I am going to start writing.
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