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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Dr. Meg, Global Moderator, Practitioner
I totally agree with this. Journalling has made a huge difference to me. It makes me take all the things going around in my head and shape them into coherent thoughts. When I can do that, then I can deal with whatever the issue is. Thanks for sharing that :)

i agree

I completely agree with this. I have kept a journal for years, and it really has helped to have an outlet to write thoughts and feelings down.


Write about:
Something that you feel is affecting your life in an unhealthy way

A number of years ago, I learned of a technique that worked for me at the time. I was having difficulty dealing with some "unresolved issues" in connection with a person who had passed away earlier.

The technique involved writing a "letter" to the person explaining my feelings and the how these unresolved issues affected me.

I felt better after writing my letter and was able to put to rest many bothersome feelings.

It was a helpful step for me, in my healing process.



We have both published books about our ecxperiences on learning to live with a psychatric disorder.

We both think journals are a good idea but people should not think that writing a 'book' will immediately 'cure' your ills. Suzy certainly thinks you have to be in a pretty good place mentally before you embark on doing something like that. She had to take breaks as she went through her life experiences as it does tend to be really challenging recalling the pain of past experiences. She did not read her autobiography for well over a year after it was published and it was THEN that she benefitted from it. Reading then she realised just how ill she had been and how things had moved on.

Similarily I had to be in a state of strength to be objective in what I was writing. Also my target audience was to be the carers who would not by instinct turn to a book for support or help - so I found trying to keep my senteneces short and uncomplicated rather a challenge - if the sentenece went on for more than a couple of sentences I reckoned I would have lost the person's attention. When your in the midst of caring for a crisis you don't take in much.

Suzy writes poetry and lyrics often and it is powerful stuff and I would think that it is a good outlet for her.

I really don't get it...why does journaling help....I have been in theraphy for years and for years therapists have urged me to journal but I can't...I'm not saying that I think that journaling doesn't work b/c I know that it has worked for other people and I know that the few times I have tried to "journal" it has been helpful but I just don't understand...why does it help to just sit down and write for 15 minutes sometimes about seemingly pointless stuff...I don't get it...since I'm in rehab for drugs and alcohol I have these like "homework assignments" and one of them is to journal everyday (I don't call it journaling b/c I hate that term...I call it daily briefings...I view it more as facts about my day and not about feelings and crap)...anyway...I also don't understand why talking about stuff helps you feel better...emotions are such a foreign thing to me b/c in my house it's the only appropriate emotion is happiness real or fake...feeling and/or talking about emotions actually makes my heart race and my stomach goes into knots it's like I'm having a minor panic attack...I just don't know what to do before rehab I only had to talk to my therapist one hour every other in intensive outpatient I have to attend group theraphy and individual session for a total of 6 1/2 hours per I have to go to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous once a week so it's like 8 1/2 hours's over whelming and hard and frustrating...anyway, thanks for listening...

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I think a lot of people find it helpful, kels. If writing about feelings doesn't come naturally to you, I can understand why you're finding it fdifficult - but maybe it's a skill you need to learn to find other ways of dealing with feelings besides burying them or numbing them.
I was thinking about it more last night and I think I might have figured it out (at least for me) mind goes at about 100 mph or kph all the time and that can cause a lot of anxiety b/c I can't really sort issues out and then it gets all mixed up and things seem worse than they really when I write I can logically figure out each step that I need to take or each step that will take place....I think that's what helps me...sometimes my therapist helps me go through stuff like step at a time...I'm such a logical person that I think this is a good way for me to tackle problems...I always need a plan of attack so to speak or I need a routine or something....for me that's what I think anyway...does that make sense to anyone?


I find journalling a great way to get thoughts off my mind so I can relax. I typically play over and over again a situation I had in my life, and can't concentrate on anything but that. So writing it down allows me time to fully concentrate on the situation, give my thoughts on it, then move on.

I can't think of any other way to describe what happened to me at a Fair this past Fourth of July weekend other than obsessive. I HAD to find a notepad and pen and jot down what I was experiencing. Once I was able to write what was on my mind (pages worth), I felt much better and could enjoy the Fair again.

I keep both an online journal and a notepad on hand for when I don't have access to a computer. Then transfer at a later time.


This sounds like a really good idea. I may do this on a computer though as I am worried that someone may read it if its written down in a book.


WOW! Thank you for the link. Will do this on my home computer so I need to wait for now, as I am at work.
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