How to Journal Through a Traumatic Event

Can’t seem to move on from a highly stressful event? Writing about it might help you break out of the negative cycle.

How to Journal Through a Traumatic Event

Stressful situations are a part of everyday life. Like most people, you cope with each situation and move on. But what if you have endured an extremely stressful, in fact, traumatic event that you mentally relive over and over? Is there anything you can do to break the pattern of repetitive thoughts and get on with your life?

Try journaling.

Journaling about a traumatic event may help you begin to understand how and why the event happened and what you can do to get over it. What’s more amazing is that it may take only a few days of writing to get you on your way.

The Effects of Traumatic Events
Only you can know if an event has been traumatic for you. It can be a one-time occurrence, such as experiencing the death of a loved one, a car accident, a crime, a natural disaster or other frightening situation. Or it can be ongoing, such as having a serious illness, coping with unemployment, keeping a big secret from others or dealing with an abusive relationship. According to University of Texas at Austin psychology professor James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., “It’s not traumatic unless the person is continuing to live with it—worrying about it, getting upset about it. It’s still a feature of that person’s everyday life.”

Pennebaker says that it’s natural for any person to be preoccupied by recent highly emotional events. However, when that preoccupation continues for many months or years, it can lead to serious health and behavior problems such as poor sleep patterns, memory loss, cardiovascular disease, decreased immunity, social isolation, overeating and drug and alcohol abuse. 

Ways Journaling Helps
So how can journaling help you heal from a traumatic event? Pennebaker and his colleague at the University of Texas at Austin, Psychology Professor and YouBeauty Psychology Advisor Art Markman, Ph.D., describe journaling’s effects:

  •  It gives you a way to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings about the event. Giving yourself permission to voice what you are going through is an important step in the healing process.
  • It helps you externalize the traumatic event. By using written words, says Markman, “You’re separating the terrible thing that happened to you from the emotion that was associated with it. That’s what helps decrease the stress you feel.”
  • It helps you create a story that you can tell about the event. By organizing your thoughts and feelings into a coherent narrative, you may find a different perspective about what you have endured, and thus greater meaning.
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