man expressive writing textbook

A person living in the modern world today faces more traumas and ordeals in a day than the entire lifetime of a similar person living a hundred years ago. Humanity has come a long way from inventing the wheel to wireless implants that heal nerves. This rapid development has caused considerable repercussions on mankind’s emotional wellbeing.

Physically fit people are so mentally and emotionally disturbed that they are looking for a magic pill for loneliness. But for most of us achieving mental composure is still not that easy. Expressive writing provides a practical outlet for the author to come to terms with the assortment of emotions that they may be feeling.

What is Expressive Writing?

How to deal with stress successfully will help you physically achieve better in society. Not being able to deal with the daily tension successfully in life can cause unexplained physical and emotional stress symptoms. Expressive writing provides you with an opportunity to express your beliefs, ideas, emotions, intentions, and feelings without fear of being examined, judged or criticized by anyone for your rationale. Expressive writing aims to come to terms with the events, experiences or circumstances prevailing in the author’s mind. The research initially performed (by James Pennebaker and Susman 1988) brings to light the mind and body connection. Pennebaker continued this research with various other colleagues. The researchers concluded that the people who have traumatic experiences and kept it a secret are twice as likely to need medical attention.

How to Perform Expressive Writing

To fully take advantage of all of the different attributes of expressive writing, we will explain the technique described by Pennebaker. Each writing session should last for at least 15 minutes.

1.) How to Write:

The most important thing is to let your emotions honestly be the Australian Master of your entire composition throughout the process. Try to capture the moment as it occurs in your mind without trying to give unnecessary importance to grammar, punctuation or spelling. Do not try to structure your experience in any other way than the way your mind has actually perceived it. Language will automatically mould your words into an understandable event.

2.) When to Write:

It is advisable to write at the same time each day. Pennebaker suggests writing in the evening when all the day’s events have passed. Writing early in the morning close to dawn is also conducive to being able to express yourself candidly on paper.

3.) Where to Write:

The environment is the only thing that will remain which will have an impact on your writing. Pick a setting in which you are comfortable. Avoid being a crowd writer so that you may have some privacy to your thoughts. This will automatically trigger your natural writing juices.

4.) What to Write:

“It can be related to something you’re dreaming, thinking or worrying about a lot, an issue or memory that’s affecting your life in an unhealthy, or a subject you’ve been avoiding for days, weeks or years,” – Pennebaker.

Commit yourself to write for at least 15 minutes consecutively the first idea or thought that comes to your mind.

5.) Flip-Out Rule:

This rule has never once been needed to be applied, but Pennebaker warns that if you feel that you will not be able to write about a certain topic without being institutionalized, don’t write about it.

Impacts on Mental Health

The first few days of beginning the expressive writing practice individuals can expect to have feelings of apprehension or reservations about the whole ordeal. This is only normal. Expressive writing devotees will experience several advantages from overcoming public speaking anxiety to even overcoming sleepless nights. All the benefits mentioned here are only the ones which have been proved with research. There may be other advantages as well which may differ on person to person basis and also depending on the type of trauma faced by the individual.


“Writing about an emotionally charged subject or an unresolved trauma helps you put the event into perspective and give some structure and organization to those anxious feelings, which ultimately helps you get through it,” – asserts James Pennebaker.

In 2014 an investigation was conducted in the VA Connecticut Healthcare System involving 149 women. The women took part in 20-minute expressive writing sessions for at least 4 consecutive days. After two weeks, these women had significantly lower symptoms of depression in comparison to the participants who wrote about neutral topics.


This technique is especially effective for people with anxiety. It is a thought process often related to a particular experience or activity. A recent study at the University of Chicago was conducted on anxious test takers. The research concluded that the students who wrote uninhibited about their feelings just before starting their exam performed better than those who didn’t. The act of transcribing your thoughts on paper actually creates a distance between you and your thoughts. This transforms into confidence for the anxious person because they begin to associate that space into a feeling of safety.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) is defined as:

“An anxiety disorder associated with severe traumatic events and characterized by such symptoms as survivor guilt, reliving the trauma in dreams, numbness, and lack of involvement with reality, or recurrent thoughts and images.”

This can cause the individual to have anxiety problems as well as sleep-related issues. PSTD and stress can also be connected to performing a specific activity. Expressive writing is a successful way to deal with all these issues with a minimal expense. Companies can use it to motivate employees without having to bear any additional costs.

Sleep Disturbance:

Sleep disturbance is the factor which has the most fallout on an individual’s health. This can lead to excessive strain and even anxiety if not dealt with medically. This is the only factor which may or may not be completely cured with expressive writing. If the reason for the sleep disturbance is physical such as pregnancy, arthritis, heartburn or asthma than it cannot be cured with this technique. Expressive writing is an amazingly inexpensive cure for individuals who wake up in the middle night after experiencing nightmares. It also works for people who have difficulty falling asleep because of the emotional issue about an individual event in their life. Not getting enough sleep regularly, can cause a list of other physical and mental problems.

Written by Stella Lincoln, Ph.D

Stella Lincoln is a distinguished Professor of Cognitive Psychology at Academist Help. She has a Ph.D. in the same subject from Stanford and most of her research focuses on human learning, memory, and the significance of science of learning in the academic process. She is also an active member of the American Psychological Association (APA).