Expressive Writing: What is it? And what are the gains?

Expressive Writing: What is it? And what are the gains?

In our years as undergraduate students here at UNH, we are academically challenged, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually challenged. We have rough days, weeks, and sometimes months where we feel “off.”

I’ve had those days. I won’t pretend I haven’t. I think it is important to recognize when we feel “off” and as a result, make an effort to switch it up, and get back in the groove. I tried expressive writing/self-journaling recently. I have never done it before. Weirdly enough, I don’t really keep a diary or journal; therefore I came into this experiment of expressive writing as a total newbie.

Write It!

Expressive writing is personal and emotional writing without regard to punctuation, verb agreement, or other technical aspects of writing.

I am an English major; therefore, I thought I wouldn’t enjoy expressive writing for a few reasons:

  1. I demand perfect grammar in my papers.
  2. I am writing all the time, so “fun” writing didn’t sound fun to me.
  3. I didn’t know how to disregard form. No question mark needed? Not my style.

And yet… It was the most liberating experience. I didn’t have to think about verb tense. I just wrote my thoughts and didn’t pause to edit the sentence. Expressive writing provided me the opportunity to let loose and write whatever was on my mind with no requirements or expectations.

My journal - made out of recycled paper. No peeking!

My journal – made out of recycled paper. No peeking!

Writing in a journal to release stress does not mean it’s all gloom and doom. I wrote more about the exciting, happy, and hilarious moments that occurred than the not-so-great moments. What you write about is a choice, but for me personally, I found I wanted to write on the positive stuff going on in my life.

Dawn Zitney, Wellness Educator/Counselor at UNH Health Services, comments on why expressive writing is a great method for anyone:

Expressive writing is a tool anyone can use for personal growth to process thoughts, feelings, and life events. What I like most about journaling is that there are no rules – write what you want, when you want, how you want. I often tell people who want to start journaling to start with 2-5 minutes of free writing and see what happens- most are surprised of the insights that can happen with such little time.

For any fellow seniors reading this, it’s a scary time. We are graduating from UNH. We have to decide what we are doing next year. This is an instance where I strongly recommend taking a step back and writing. Write for yourself. No one needs to read it, unless you’d like someone to.

I used the Journal to the Self Workbook by Kathleen Adams, available at Health Services, to try out certain exercises. My favorite were “Lists of 100” and “Time Capsules.” For the “Lists of 100” I chose to answer the question: What Makes You Happy? I was allowed to repeat things, which I did, and by the 20th thing I started getting into it. I listed things from puppies to raspberry iced tea. The purpose of this technique is to find patterns and possibly things I may have forgotten. The further you get into the list the more insightful it becomes.

I also enjoyed the “Time Capsules” exercise because it was cool to see what I wrote about where I see myself in the future: what I am doing, how I am feeling, and the people in my life. I chose the year 2036. 20 years from now.

The workbook I used

The workbook I used

I intend to continue expressive writing. While I started out experimenting with it, and reflecting on the process in this blog, I am going to keep writing for myself. It really helped put things in perspective, and it’s a private form of releasing thoughts. I’m a generally private person, therefore journaling is the perfect method for me.

If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed give expressive writing a try. Health Services offers a Write Within Workshop and has wellness educators/counselors available to meet with you individually to talk about writing as a stress management tool.

Last remarks on expressive writing:

  • Date every entry.
  • Write quickly.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Protect your privacy.

Stay cool, Wildcats.