We’ve all been there – feeling upset about something and can’t seem to generate the strength to move past the negative feelings.
Have you really processed or resolved your feelings if they continue to occupy your day-to-day thoughts?
Chances are, you haven’t.
Adopting a consistent journaling habit and employing Expressive Writing can help you learn to process your feelings and adopt healthier coping strategies when it comes to processing and resolving your intense emotions.
What is Expressive Writing?
Expressive writing is defined as journaling about your deepest thoughts and emotions, especially those surrounding any emotional challenges you face.
This type of journaling is a way to explore what is happening in your life as well as how it affects you. The act of sitting down to write about your anger, fear, or sadness is not always the most pleasant way to spend some time, but the long-term effects of expressive writing are incredibly positive.
While writing about tough emotions can be difficult, those who commit to doing it consistently – as part of a journaling practice – report feeling a greater sense of meaning. Those who continue with their journaling habit report having an enhanced perspective on their problems and an improved sense of well-being over time.
Writing about significant life changes, disappointments, and events that lead to emotional trauma helps you to analyze and better understand the complicated feelings you are having, identify the triggers or causes of your pain, and can help to reduce your stress around the events that lead to the feelings.
Expressive writing provides an outlet to explore your emotions privately, which can lead to an improved perspective, better solutions to problems, and an overall enhancement of your emotional wellness.
How to Use Journaling to Process Your Feelings
Expressive writing is best accomplished in 20-30-minute uninterrupted sessions. If you’re already shaking your head at the thought of finding those pockets of time, take a deep breath and try to relax. You don’t have to start with a 30 minute interval – start with just 5 minutes for a week, then increase the time interval by 5 minutes each week until you achieve your goal.
Sit down with your journal or fire up your computer or tablet and just start writing. Write continuously, without stopping to worry about what you’re going to say, if what you are writing makes sense, or how your writing is structured. Just start writing what comes to mind and keep going.
It doesn’t have to make “sense” to anyone but you. The goal is to get the emotions and thoughts down on paper. Spelling isn’t important, and the “prettiness” of your handwriting isn’t important – what IS important is that you take advantage of the opportunity to START.
You don’t have to have a leather-bound journal with handmade paper or a special pen – though if you have those on hand, go ahead and use them. Loose-leaf paper from an old school notebook will do just fine, as will blank paper from your printer drawer or the remainder of a spiral-bound notebook you have lying around the house.
Explore your most persistent thoughts and deepest emotions. Discuss the most significant troubles in your life. Explore the past events that trouble you. Consider your relationships and how they influence your life.
Many diverse types of journals are available, from gratitude journals, those dedicated to helping you find happiness, meditation journals, nutrition, and fitness journals, and those dedicated to tracking your goals.
Some people enjoy writing just before bed, which is a way to get your concerns out of your mind, which can help you fall asleep faster.
Others like to write first thing in the morning when their thoughts are most focused and fresh, and in so doing, set the tone for their day.
Find a time, place, and format that works best for you, and stick with it. A daily habit is best, as you will soon begin to look forward to your journal time, knowing the emotional release and processing that will take place while you write.
Why Expressive Writing Helps
Several research studies have offered preliminary explanations as to why journaling is such a powerfully effective strategy for coping with our feelings.
The best reason? The act of writing, which is translating your thoughts into words and then putting them on paper, is powerful and cathartic.
Journaling, like talking to a trusted friend or a counselor, allows you to get your emotions out into the open instead of keeping them buried inside, which has been shown to cause emotional, psychological, and mental health problems.
Getting your feelings out of your mind and onto paper frees up emotional and cognitive space for more important ideas and thoughts. Expressive writing leads to improved creativity and memory, demonstrating how it can free your mind from constant focus and worry about your feelings.
Journaling is a powerful self-development process that allows you to identify your feelings, explore their sources and repercussions, and determine the best course of action for dealing with them. This cycle is the essence of emotional processing, which leads to improved well-being and stability.