6 Steps for Using Journaling to Cope with PTSD

Expressive Writing Can Improve Physical and Psychological Health.

woman writing in journal
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Using journaling to cope with and express your thoughts and feelings (also called expressive writing) can be a good way of coping with the impact of a traumatic event. Expressive writing has been found to improve physical and psychological health. In regard to PTSD in particular, expressive writing has been found to have a number of benefits, including improved coping and posttraumatic growth (or the ability to find meaning in and have positive life changes following a traumatic event), as well as reduced PTSD symptoms, tension and anger.

Steps for Journaling:

  1. Find a quiet time and place where there are going to be few distractions.

  2. Take a few minutes to think about how your PTSD or traumatic event has impacted you and your life.

  3. Begin writing about your deepest thoughts and feelings regarding your PTSD or the traumatic event you experienced. Write for at least 20 minutes.

  4. Once you have finished writing, read over what you wrote and pay attention to how you feel. Notice any changes in your thoughts or feelings as a result of writing.

  5. Although long-term benefits of writing have been found, writing about your PTSD or traumatic event will naturally initially bring up some distressing thoughts and feelings. Therefore, make sure you have a plan for how to manage this distress. You can learn about other healthy ways of coping with distress here.

  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5, writing about the same topic, for at least two more days. It has been found that writing about the same topic on consecutive days can help organize and improve the clarity of your thoughts and feelings about a stressful event.

    Journaling Tips:

    1. When writing, don't worry about spelling or grammar. Focus simply on getting all of your thoughts and feelings down.

    2. Try to be as descriptive as possible in your writing. For example, when describing your feelings (for example, sadness or anxiety), write about the thoughts connected to those feelings and how those emotions felt in your body (for example, "My heart was racing" or "My muscles were very tense."). This will help increase your awareness and the clarity of your emotions and thoughts.

    1. You may find it helpful to keep what you write so that you can look over them to see how your thoughts and feelings have changed over the course of using this coping strategy. However, if you are concerned about others finding them, you should find a safe and secure way of throwing away your writings.

    2. It may be important to first set aside some time everyday to write. However, you can also use expressive writing whenever something stressful happens. It can be a good coping strategy to add to your healthy coping repertoire.

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