Writing your wrongs

Sophie Sperber and Lauren Dyer

Since she was a teenager, Lori Day, educational psychologist for Lori Day Consulting, has kept a pad of paper and pen next to her bed. Whenever something keeps her awake, whether it be family, friends or work, she writes it down. 

“My mind will just keep coming back to that issue, but if I write it down I can tell myself, ‘Okay, it’s written down, you’re not going to forget about it tomorrow. Just put it aside,’ and that helps me … go to sleep,” Day said.

John Evans, writing clinician at Wellness and Writing, runs a writing course that aims to help patients through various writing prompts. 

In 2019, Duke Integrative Medicine published a study on the effectiveness of Evans’ writing course in decreasing depression, rumination, which Evans described as excessive worry, and perceived stress and also building resilience. Participants in the study took an inventory, or quiz, to measure their level in these four categories before and after taking Evans’ course. The results showed that depression, rumination and perceived stress decreased while resilience increased.

“There have been thousands of studies that have been done on expressive writing to show that it can lower blood pressure, it can lower rheumatoid arthritis, it can remediate symptoms of stress-induced asthma,” Evans said.

According to Day, writing helps people feel like they have expressed themselves and allows them to think before communicating. 

“The writing down … and waiting [until the next day] lets you capture your thoughts and your feelings, vent them out in writing then slow things down and think about it before you impulsively just blast [your thoughts and feelings] out there,” Day said.

Evans said journal writing can be dangerous if writers are journaling about the same thing with each entry because they could retraumatize themselves.

To avoid this, Evans said students should write from a different perspective and create a satisfying story about the event that they would want to tell themselves in the future.

Expressive writing forces writers to change their language and change the story they tell themselves about what happened said Evans.

“You can’t really change what happened in the past, but you can change how you think about [it],” said Evans. “You can change how you talk about it, and a lot of our work has to do with language and how changing your language can change your world.”