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 feelings."
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 recorder.
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 feedback."
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 system.
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."