Journaling, also known as expressive writing, is a technique many of us use to help us make sense of our emotional experiences. Writing about these emotional experiences has shown to be more effective than writing about more superficial topics. So this type of journal is not the same as keeping a daily diary of events.

A woman's hand writing in a journal over a desk with a notebook, glasses, a cup of coffee, some books and pictures.

Research suggests that writing about upsetting experiences can sometimes be painful on the day you do it, but over time often produces improvements in mood, reductions in anxiety and fewer visits to the doctor. Writing (or talking about) emotional topics has also been linked to better immune function, faster wound healing and lowered heart rate.

Getting strong emotions off your chest by writing them down can make you feel better (an effect known as catharsis). Subsequent writing sessions may help you make sense of the experience, put things in perspective and make it feel more manageable and meaningful.

Try This Journaling Exercise

• Write about something personal and important to you that has made you feel emotional.
• You don’t have to write about your biggest trauma. If you do and are getting too distressed then stop and write about something more manageable.
• Write continuously for 20 minutes.
• As you write don’t worry about spelling and grammar – no one is going to read this except you (unless you choose to share it).
• When you finish, read through it and think about it for a while.
• Either keep it somewhere private, or shred it.
• Write at least 4 times (either several days in a row, or once or twice a week).

As Anne Frank said, “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” For more information, see:

Dr Sue Ferguson is an Honorary Associate Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University.