Excel At Life--Dedicated to the Pursuit of Excellence in Life, Relationships, Sports and Career
CBT Jealousy Depression Relationships Conflict Self-efficacy Happiness Goal-setting Motivation Wellness Sport Psych

Popular Articles

Crazy-Makers: Dealing with Passive-Aggressive People

Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

When You Have Been Betrayed

Struggling to Forgive: An Inability to Grieve

Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions

The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)

Excellence vs. Perfection

Depression is Not Sadness

20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem

7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage

Happiness is An Attitude

Guide to How to Set Achieveable Goals

Catastrophe? Or Inconvenience?

Popular Audios

Panic Assistance

Motivational Audios

Mindfulness Training

Rational Thinking

Relaxation for Children

Loving Kindness Meditation

Self-Esteem Exercise

Lies You Were Told

Choosing Happiness

Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

All Audio Articles

PsychNotes Index

More PsychNotes: Emotions

May 3, 2016       
print

When You are Distressed: Write!
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

pen and paper
I have often recommended to clients to write letters to release emotions. Sometimes these letters were to themselves and sometimes they were directed to other people. However, they were never to be shared with others so as to reduce self-censoring which can limit the emotional release.

Although I've found this to be a useful tool, I didn't know that one of the reasons for its effectiveness is that it allows self-distancing from the emotions. According to recent research by Park and colleagues (2016) expressive writing improves emotional well-being, and possibly physical health, through the following process:

1) Self-distancing. When engaged in expressive writing, the individual is able to step back and examine the situation from a more distant perspective.

2) Emotional processing. When people distance from the emotions it allows them to process the emotions with less associated negativity. By processing the emotions without the reactivity they are able to make meaning of the situation.

3) Creation of coherent story. People make meaning of a situation because as they write they tend to create a story. When they do, they tend to reduce negative emotion words and the first-person “I”, and instead, increase words related to understanding the cause.

Thus, through this process of self-distancing, they are able to develop a different perspective. Some people misunderstand emotional distancing to mean trying to suppress emotions. However, as illustrated by this research, emotional distancing occurs when you confront the situation and process the emotions. Avoiding the emotions elicited by a distressing situation doesn't allow the same kind of processing of the emotional distress.

How to Engage in Expressive Writing

The following method was used by the researchers:

1) Think about a distressing event for 60 seconds.

2) Write for 15 minutes. Write your deepest thoughts about the event. Include thoughts about the past, present, and future as well as how it impacts your relationships with others.

3) Do this same exercise for 3 days in a row.

You do not need to try and make emotional distancing occur. Instead, just write what comes to mind which will allow the natural healing mechanism of self-distancing, emotional processing, and creating meaning.

Park, J., Ayduk, Ö. and Kross, E. (2016). Stepping Back to Move Forward: Expressive Writing Promotes Self-Distancing. Emotion, 16, 349–364. DOI: 10.1037/emo0000121


Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank



Recent Articles

Analyzing Your Moods, Symptoms, and Events with Excel At Life's Mood Log

Why You Get Anxious When You Don't Want To

Why People Feel Grief at the Loss of an Abusive Spouse or Parent

“Are You Depressed?”: Understanding Diagnosis and Treatment

15 Coping Statements for Panic and Anxiety

Beyond Tolerating Emotions: Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort

Emotion Training: What is it and How Does it Work?

How You Can Be More Resistant to Workplace Bullying

Are You Passive Aggressive and Want to Change?

When Your Loved One Refuses Help

Newest Audios

Building Blocks Emotion Training

Hot Springs Relaxation

5 Methods to Managing Anger

Panic Assistance While Driving

Autogenic Relaxation Training

Rainbow Sandbox Mindfulness

Mindfulness Training