Writing Your Way Out of Depression
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."
Among the topics Carlo suggests the group write about are the
people who have touched them most in their life, and the peaks and valleys they
have experienced throughout their life. The objective, she says, is to give the
patients a better sense of where they've been, where they are, and where
One difference between traditional journaling and Carlo's
program is that she has the participants envision that they're in a medieval
castle. This transports them to another time and place, allowing them to
distance themselves from their life. "It takes them out of the context of
everyday chaos," says Carlo.
You don't need a therapist or a group to keep a journal. If
you'd like to try it on your own, Gruman suggests one or both of these
Sit in a comfortable chair, take a deep breath, and start
writing. Keep it up for 20 minutes without stopping. See what comes out.
"If you are having trouble putting your finger on what's bothering
you," says Gruman, "this may help you narrow the field."
Another journaling tip, Gruman says, is to focus a 20-minute
writing session on a problem or concern that keeps coming back to your mind
over and over. Write down, in detail, what it is about this problem that
worries or angers you. Predict three different scenarios for what might happen
next. Which one do you like best and why? What role might you play in making
each scenario come to pass?