Putting your feelings on paper just may relieve PTSD symptoms
By Christine Leccese
We used to call them “diaries,” and then we progressed to start talking about them as “journals.” Today, the benefits of writing in a journal have become so well known that “journal” has become a verb: hence, the act of “journaling.” Research shows that people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder can benefit from the therapeutic act of “journaling.” People with PTSD will often go to great lengths to avoid thinking or talking about their feelings and what triggered the PTSD. Experts advise, however, that writing about your feelings related to PTSD can help you heal.
You don’t need to write about the event that triggered the PTSD, but how you feel and what you think about when the traumatic event comes into your mind. Describe how you felt physically. Was your heart pounding, or did it make your head hurt, etc? This will help you identify how the PTSD makes you feel and make you more aware of how it is impacting your life. Be careful to write about your symptoms and not the triggering event. Michael J. Cain, the father of a Marine who has deployed nine times, keeps a blog about journaling and PTSD and teaches about it at Fort Bragg. He points out in his blog that writing about your feelings and how they impact your life, as opposed to the actual event, keeps the focus on how you react to the event, not the event itself. You cannot change what happened in the past, but you can try to change your reaction to it.
Cain writes on his blog: “Diving right in to writing about the specifics of a traumatic event can exacerbate symptoms. Write instead about the symptoms themselves, how they’ve manifested themselves in your life and how they impact your day to day existence.”
Some people find it helpful to read over their journal in the days following their writing. In addition, it helps to write about the same topic a few days in a row. Don’t think to yourself “I already said that. I should say something new.” Remember, no one is going to read this but you, so you don’t need to be conscious about how something looks or sounds. If grammar and punctuation are not important to you, don’t worry about them. Remember: This journal is only for you!
Writing about your feelings regarding a traumatic event can help you to understand your feelings better and understand a the link between your thoughts and feelings. It can also be therapeutic just to write about your feelings to get them off your chest. There is a whole field of “journal therapy,” as well as online journals you can sign up to create. For some people, putting pen to paper helps them. For others, it’s easier to express feelings quickly on the computer with a keyboard. You can also write on your own computer and lock the file with a password.
Be careful, however, if the feelings you bring up from journaling make you too upset. Have a plan for what to do if this happens. If you feel like you could benefit from learning more about your own symptoms, you can take a free, anonymous self-assessment.
Christine Leccese is the marketing and communications manager at Military Pathways.