Apparently new research from the University of Minnesota indicates that office workers who keep a diary of the day’s events in the office lowered their stress levels. There has been quite a good deal of research in this area and for the past 20 years Dr James W. Pennebaker from the University of Texas has been getting clients to write their deepest feelings about past emotional trauma for around 15-20 minutes for four consecutive days.

‘People who engage in expressive writing report feeling happier and less negative than before writing. Similarly, reports of depressive symptoms, rumination and general anxiety tend to drop in the weeks and months after writing about emotional upheavals’. From ‘Writing to Heal’ by James w. Pennebaker.

Diaries have been used to help people give up smoking or stick to weight loss programmes, but this kind of emotional journalling is about expressing feelings rather than recording day to day events. However, research from the University of Glasgow suggests that dwelling too long on traumatic events can actually suppress the immune system, so this is not something to carry out for the longer term. It may even be that this kind of emotional reflection works better for some people that for others. Pennebaker doesn’t recommend doing this kind of writing every day,but rather in blocks of four consecutive days.

He says:

“I’m not convinced that having people write every day is a good idea. I’m not even convinced that people should write about a horrible event for more than a couple of weeks. You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity.”

The benefits of doing this writing exercise include general improvement in health, less visits to the doctor, improved immune function, better sleep and first year college students showed improvements in their grades.

Tips for Writing to Heal:

  • Find a time and place where you won’t be disturbedWriting a Letter
  • Write continuously for at least 20 minutes
  • Don’t worry about spelling or grammar
  • Write only for yourself
  • Write about something extremely personal and important for you
  • Deal only with events or situations you can handle now


Ref: Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval , James W.Pennebaker (2004)

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