Journaling is one method of helping people cope with any type of traumatic event. Expressive writing has been found to improve physical and psychological health for people with a number of physical and mental health conditions.
One of the benefits of journaling is that it is relatively inexpensive—the cost of paper and a pen, and can be done almost anywhere or anytime.
Some of the general health benefits of journaling include improved cognitive function, counteracting many of the negative effects of stress, and strengthened immune function.
In recent years, the effect of journaling for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has found that the practice may help in several different ways.
Psychologically, expressive writing appears to help people better cope with the symptoms of PTSD such as anxiety and anger. Physically, journaling can make a difference as well, reducing body tension and restoring focus.
In addition, we are learning that traumatic events may lead not just to post-traumatic stress, but to post-traumatic growth. In other words, there can be silver linings and experiencing trauma may help people change in positive ways as well.
Expressive writing has been found not only to improve the symptoms of PTSD and improve coping, but also appears to help foster post-traumatic growth, or the ability to find meaning in and have positive life changes following a traumatic event.
Before journaling, find a notebook and a favorite pen.
Some people prefer to have more than one notebook, reserving one to use as a gratitude journal, and the other to include all other thoughts and feelings. You may want to think about where you will keep your journal between writings. Some people prefer to keep them in a private location, whereas others do not feel this need. What is most important is that your words are only available for those you wish to read them. Then follow these six easy steps to begin journaling your way through PTSD today:
Find a quiet time and place where there are going to be few distractions. Don’t be concerned, however, if there is some noise, or if you only have a short period of time. Some people find that writing at a bus station, on a bus, or even during a five-minute break during the day is very helpful.
Take a few minutes to think about how your PTSD or traumatic event has impacted you and your life.
Begin writing about your deepest thoughts and feelings regarding your PTSD or the traumatic event you experienced. Write for at least 20 minutes. (Note, this is ideal, but again, any amount of time is often helpful, especially if you find it hard isolating this amount of time every day.)
Once you have finished writing, read over what you wrote and pay attention to how you feel. Notice any changes in your thoughts or feelings as a result of writing.
Although long-term benefits of writing have been found, writing about your PTSD or traumatic event will naturally initially bring up some distressing thoughts and feelings. Therefore, make sure you have a plan for how to manage this distress.
Repeat steps 1 through 5, writing about the same topic, for at least two more days. It has been found that writing about the same topic on consecutive days can help organize and improve the clarity of your thoughts and feelings about a stressful event. You may be surprised at the clarity that journaling can bring just by writing.