Writing to Ease Stress?

I have many sources of stress in my life including serious problems at work and at home. A friend suggested that keeping a journal of my thoughts might help. True?

– September 18, 2006

"Therapeutic journaling" or "expressive writing," the terms used to describe the writing you do as a means of dealing with stress, pain or chronic disease can help a lot. An early study of the effects of journaling showed that it improved immune function in healthy people, and in 1999 the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study from North Dakota State University showing that writing about the stress in their lives actually reduced physical symptoms among people with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. Another study, from the University of Iowa published in the August, 2002, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, found that a group of students assigned to write about their emotions and their attempts to understand and make sense of a traumatic event became more aware of the positive fallout of the event – such as improved relationships, greater personal strength, spiritual development and an increased appreciation for life.

Expressing the emotions and working to understand the trauma were key. Another group of students was told to write only their "deepest feelings" about a stressful or traumatic event and a control group was assigned to record only the details of traumatic news events. Neither of these two groups derived any benefits from their journaling – in fact, the researchers noted that people who dealt only with their feelings progressively wrote more negatively over the course of the study and also reported worsened health – such as a mild cold that became severe.

The idea here is to spend 15 to 20 minutes a day organizing your thoughts in a diary or journal, but it is best to get some guidance before starting out. You can find a number of books on the subject, including Writing as a Way of Healing, by Hunter College Professor Louise DeSalvo (Beacon Press, 2000), or you can log on to the Center for Journal Therapy for instruction, or Dialogue House Associates, established by Jungian psychologist Ira Progoff.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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