The Write Prescription for Depression and Anxiety

Writing as a form of self-care and therapy.

Posted Aug 27, 2020

Who, as a disgruntled teenager, hasn’t written a poem or two to vent about cruel classmates, unyielding parents, or a broken heart? While this may seem cliché, there is growing evidence that writing is an excellent form of therapy for depression and anxiety. It falls under the umbrella of expressive therapies along with its kissing cousin, bibliotherapy, which uses printed works to help patients explore feelings and conflicts.

Writing therapeutically has shown some remarkable results, including potentially boosting the immune system, but it seems to be most effective as a way to relieve stress and process difficult emotions, in part because it helps people to feel like they have regained control in a trying situation. A relatively new form of therapy, credit for its development goes to Dr. James W. Pennebaker who was one of the early psychologists using this form of therapy in the 1980s. In fact, Dr. Pennebaker himself used writing therapy for 14 years by the time he wrote about his research two decades ago.

Hannah Olinger/Unsplash
Source: Hannah Olinger/Unsplash

While it’s always a good idea to speak to your health care provider if you are experiencing negative emotions that are interfering with your day-to-day life for two weeks or more, writing or journaling can help you feel better whether you are on a course of treatment or looking after your own well-being. For pregnant women, writing can also help you move through the transition into motherhood without unburdening your fears and concerns onto a loved one.

How do you get started? There is no wrong way, but keeping a journal or diary is one of the most common forms of therapeutic writing. It helps you get the thoughts that won’t leave you alone out of your mind by putting them on paper. It also helps you see in words what you are feeling so that you process those emotions. Here are a few journaling techniques to try.

  • Speed Writing. For a preset amount of time, say five or 10 minutes, write down everything that comes to mind about your topic without censoring yourself.
  • Make a List. Jot down everything you can think of that relates to whatever is troubling you at the moment so you can go back and see how they apply to one another.
  • Write a Letter. Without censoring yourself, compose a letter to someone you wish you could tell exactly how you feel.
  • Capture the Moment. Describe exactly how you felt during a particular memory. This can be used to recall something joyous or to process something difficult.
  • Talk it Out. Write an entire conversation about anything you have on your mind to explore two perspectives on the problem. Read more about support systems here.
Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash
Source: Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash

Bottom Line: Writing can be an effective way to relieve stress by expressing your feelings and sorting through your emotions. A trained therapist or counselor can help you get started and teach you how to use the therapy to your best advantage.