Traumatic Stress? Write This Down…

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

Everyone is likely to go through a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Whether it’s a car accident, the death of someone close, surgery, illness, or even financial collapse, traumatic events can trigger a barrage of challenging emotions. There are many ways to get through a traumatic event. Therapy, exercise, support groups, and participating in an artistic pursuit are a few examples of activities meant to minimize the impact of a traumatic event. Writing is another time-honored approach to boosting mental health in times of crisis.

Writing about trauma and the emotions it triggers in you can help you to put things into perspective and soothe some of your fears. Keeping a journal or diary allows your thoughts to get onto paper and out of your head where they can often create anxiety or depression. Once you can think clearly, you are on your way to feeling better.

In recent health news, researchers from the University of Iowa performed a study that looked at writing and its use as a tool to cope with stress. They noted that expressive writing, which involves disclosing one’s deepest thoughts and feelings about a stressful life event by using a first-person perspective, has been linked to gains in health and well-being. However, they wanted to find out which type of writing was more beneficial — first person or third person.

First-person writing involves the use of the word “I,” as in “I am worried my cancer may come back even though I have had surgery to remove a tumor.” Third-person writing would shift the focus somewhat to, “She was worried her cancer would come back.”

The researchers devised a study to examine whether a distanced, third-person approach to expressive writing might be more beneficial than a traditional, first-person intervention. They randomly assigned participants to two groups: one which wrote expressively about traumatic life events by using a first-person perspective and one which did the same using a third-person-singular perspective.

Their analyses showed that when participants suffered from high levels of intrusive thinking — those unwanted or inappropriate thoughts that pop up and cause worry or distress — third-person expressive writing, relative to a traditional first-person approach, yielded these benefits:

— Greater perceived benefits and positive, long-lasting effects
— Fewer days of activity restriction due to feeling unsettled or ill

The researchers concluded that these results suggest that third-person expressive writing may be an especially fitting technique for recovering from traumatic or highly stressful life events.

Whatever your worries are, take this health advice and give writing a try. If writing from an “I” perspective is not resolving your anxieties and ushering in clear thinking the way you would like it to, try switching to third person — it just might do the trick.

To find out about another helpful way to relieve stress, read the article You Can Now Visit a Yoga Therapist.