Write Away Election Stress, part 2

In my previous post I touched on Expressive Writing as a way of dealing with post-election stress. I need to expand on that. Writing for stress relief takes more than one form, and spontaneous writing in real time is best known as journaling.

I can attest from personal experience that journaling my heart out has been hugely helpful in coming to grips with anger, confusion, and other chaotic emotions. I highly recommend it, and if your topic is a tender one that could cause the chaos to spread of others near and dear to you happened to read it, write it into the fireplace, or the shredder, or delete the file.

As great and powerful as journaling is, I’m not aware of any studies showing that it has long-term health benefits. Nor is it reliably useful for calming currently chaotic emotion.
Expressive writing is especially powerful for resolving stressful memories after the fact. This research was pioneered by James Pennebaker and expanded upon in over 200 replications in situations ranging from prison populations to cancer patients and outplaced high tech industry personnel.

In Pennebaker’s original research, people were asked to write about “a trauma, emotional upheaval, or unsettling event that has been influencing your life, spinning obsessively in your mind, and maybe keeping you awake at night” for twenty minutes on each of four consecutive days.

Subsequent studies have found similar results by having people write for as little as five minutes. They have scaled the four days back to one or two. They’ve left it consecutive and spread it out. Research in other directions sheds even more light.

Almost without exception, results showed durable health benefits. In the case of the tech workers, the ones who wrote according to the experimental protocol found new jobs significantly sooner faster than the control group.

So in concert with what I posted last week, I urge you to journal about current fears and frustration. In a few months or more, if it’s still troubling you, switch to the Pennebaker Process. Meanwhile, if journaling current stuff triggers traumatic old memories, do the four day routine with them now.

In fact, most readers here are writing lifestories anyway. Part of the healing value of expressive writing is the way it turns endless rumination loops into coherent story with context and meaning. So take this process one step further and turn the results of those 20 minute sessions into a coherent, meaningful story worthy of passing along.

Write for the health of it!

Image credit: Prawny, posted on https://morguefile.com/creative/Prawny


Ian Mathie said...

This idea also spills over into grief management, which may be an alternative way of describing the distress many people are feeling following the presidential election. It's something that happens to one group or another after every election in a democratic society. Many of the losers will hang on to their outrage, disappointment or grief until they have had time to come to terms with the new order, see that only some things have changed and then decide whether they want actively to strive for something different. Only then can constructive thought begin.
Getting to that point is the uncomfortable bit and many studies since the 1970's have shown that writing about it, whether you call it journaling, diarising, or simply recording your thoughts and emotions can help heal the felt wounds, whether or not you ever look at what you've written afterwards.
Just as with physical illness, you can't feel well again until you have got the bug out of your system. Sadly, antibiotics don't work on this sort of sickness, but if you think of it in these terms and writing as the treatment you might surprise yourself about how effective it can be.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Well put Ian. I also see intense reactions as grief. Some people experience grief more intensely than others and we each handle it our own way.

In my opinion, time spent writing is always valuable, and I myself generally gain closure with immediate written rants and ramblings. However, research studies, specifically those modeled after the work of James Pennebaker, emphasize the integrative value of intervening time. So my advice is to write now and if you don't feel better after a session or three, don't lose hope. Try again after several weeks or a few months.

jzr said...

Thanks for your post, Sharon. For more on how journaling as a way to heal, check out the work of Kay Adams at The Center for Journal Therapy. For me, journaling has kept my head free of unwanted clutter making my whole body feel renewed.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for the shout-out for Kay Adams' work at the Center for Journal Therapy. I'm a huge fan of hers. And also for confirming my rewarding experience with journaling, whether organized or spontaneous rants. I've often published posts on this topic. Amber Starfire's Writing Through Life site is another good resource on journaling.