Why Write?

What can you do to recover from traumatic and stressful events? Pick up the pen, say University of Iowa researchers. In a recent study, they found that journaling helps people work through dire incidents. The key to success is not just describing the event or your emotions, but including your thoughts as you process the experience.

"Engagement of both thoughts and emotions while journaling about a stressful or traumatic experience can raise awareness of the benefits of the event," say study authors Philip M. Ullrich and Susan K. Lutgendorf, whose work was published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine (2002, vol. 24, no. 3).

The researchers divided 122 college students into three groups and asked them to journal at least twice a week for four weeks. The emotions-only group described their "deepest feelings" about a disturbing or painful event. The emotions-and-cognition group detailed their feelings and how they attempted to make sense of the event. The third group chronicled details of upsetting events reported in the news. The students who wrote about both their thoughts and their feelings became more aware of the positive outcomes of the event, such as improved relationships, increased personal strength, spiritual development, or a greater appreciation for life, according to the researchers.

—Dena Nishek