Harvard Mental Health Letter

Expressive writing for mental health

Putting an experience into words may ease stress and trauma. Stress, trauma, and unexpected life developments — such as a cancer diagnosis, a car accident, or a layoff — can throw people off stride emotionally and mentally. The natural response is to wonder why something bad happened and what to do next. In some people, this can lead to rumination — dwelling on the event — and possibly to a mental health problem, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Expressive writing — a technique that involves writing about thoughts and feelings that arise from a traumatic or stressful life experience — may help some people cope with the emotional fallout of such events. But it's not a cure-all, and it won't work for everyone. Expressive writing appears to be more effective for healthy people who have sustained an emotional blow than it is for people struggling with ongoing or severe mental health challenges, such as major depression or PTSD.
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