By Katie Wang
Sharing my sadness, fear, and distress with others has always been a challenge for me. I often worry that others would not understand why I feel the ways I do, would be at a loss for what to say, or would act in generally unsupportive ways. One strategy I have relied upon to cope with these concerns is putting my feelings on paper (or the computer screen, in this day and age).
I have been writing in a journal with some regularity since high school. While the frequency of my entries tends to fluctuate depending on what’s happening in my life, writing honestly about my feelings in a private space has been a constant source of comfort for me during difficult times. Putting my feelings into words allows me to distance myself from the upsetting events and process my emotions at my own pace. Further, it enables me to articulate the issues underlying my emotional reactions and, at times, has led to much-needed perspective and insights.
Given these personal experiences, I was happy to discover that psychologists have found expressive writing to be an effective stress management strategy for young adults both with and without mental health challenges. Because stress can hurt our physical health over time, there is even some evidence showing that expressive writing can improve our immunity and reduce the number of doctor visits.
Of course, writing in a journal is not a magical solution to life’s problems. I have personally become increasingly aware of the importance of reaching out to others for emotional support. Yes, sometimes people can be very insensitive and fail to support us during difficult times; they might be well-intentioned but say things that only make us feel worse, or they might simply not be willing to be there in the ways we need them to be.
Yet people can also surprise us in the best ways possible. Some of my friends have turned out to be more helpful and caring than I could have ever imagined: By showing me lots of patience and compassion and allowing me time to recover from life’s challenges, they remind me that it is OK to let them know how I’m really doing. Learning to trust my close friends and allowing them the opportunity to help me is something I continue to work on. In the meantime, I still very much believe in the power of putting my feelings into words, especially at times when I’m simply not ready to discuss my feelings with anyone. I plan to keep journaling as part of my self-care toolbox – I’m sure it will come in handy on plenty of occasions.