Writing Your Way Out of Depression
Though keeping a journal is a simple thing to do, most people
resist it, says Rank. "For many people, writing is hard work, especially if
they're depressed," he says. "It's painful to write about bad
That said, Rank finds journaling the "most effective and
cheapest" form of self-help. "If you do it in earnest, and you work
through your resistance, you will improve," he says. If you really don't
like to write, Rank suggests recording your thoughts on a mini-cassette
What journaling provides is a way of turning subjective
thoughts to objective words on paper that can be analyzed, changed, even
destroyed, says Rank. "Once your thoughts are externalized ... once they're
out of your head and onto paper, there's no longer a mystique attached to
them," he says.
Keeping a journal forces you to be honest, Rank continues.
Write for yourself only, he advises. At some point, though, you will want to
share the journal with someone -- a therapist, a friend, or a family member
whom you trust implicitly. "That's when the real healing begins," Rank
says. "By sharing your thoughts, you're accepting the idea that none of us
can do things alone. To get through depression or trauma, we need
Writing about important personal experiences is not only good
for your mental health, but your physical health as well, says James
Pennebaker, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin.
Pennebaker, author of Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing
Emotions, has been hailed as the "guru" of "confession
research," and in numerous studies has found that writing about upsetting
personal experiences for just 20 minutes at a time, over three or four days,
can result in a significant drop in blood pressure and a healthier immune
Catherine Carlo, MSW, an oncology social worker at Exeter
Hospital in Exeter, N.H., says that journaling gives her patients the
opportunity to nurture themselves. Though they write as a group, they don't
have to share their writing, Carlo says. "Just having that unspoken support
and encouragement gives them courage to write about their feelings."