Writing to Relieve Stress

Written by Aislinn Pluta

Feeling stressed? A pen and a piece of paper can be powerful tools to help you unwind. Research shows that even brief writing prompts can improve both your mental health and physical health.

Brief expressive writing

In a research study, participants were randomly assigned to write about a traumatic event, a deeply wonderful experience, or their shoes (the control group) for 2 minutes a day, 2 days in a row. Even this short exercise resulted in participants in the traumatic and positive event groups having fewer health complaints 4-6 weeks later over the control group.

Here’s how to reap the same benefits:

  1. Get out a pen and a piece of paper.

  2. Choose one of the most wonderful, happiest, or creative moments of your life. (Or on the contrary, one of the most traumatic, if that could be more helpful).

  3. Take a moment to really imagine what it was like for you to be in that moment. Try to remember the circumstance of the experience, the thoughts you were having, and the emotions you were feeling.

  4. Now take at least two minutes to write about this experience in as much detail as possible. Include all of the thoughts, feelings and memories that you were able to recall. You might include how it impacted your relationships, as well as how it impacted who you are now and who you’d like to become. (Don’t worry about spelling or grammar)

  5. Take some time after for a stretch, some deep breaths, a walk, or whatever you may need to compose yourself before jumping back into other things.

That’s it! Did you do this exercise? If not, take a couple minutes to try it now. You can try the same activity again tomorrow, either using the same experience or a new one.

Other writing paradigms to relieve stress

Most research conducted on expressive writing has centered around highly traumatic or stressful events. If you’re going through something stressful, write about it. If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, particularly if you’ve kept it a secret, writing about it can help you process.

Writing for 15 to 30 minutes, about once a week for a month or longer, can have stronger effects than briefer forms of writing. Sharing your writing with someone else can also help.

For more free, easy tools to de-stress, download UpLift on iOS, or if you don't have iOS, check out UpLift's free COVID-19 De-stress Care Package.

About the Author
Aislinn is UpLift's Content Director. She has a B.A. in Psychology and a Master's in Applied Positive Psychology, the scientific study of the factors that lead to a full and meaningful life.