Expressive as a Treatment for Anxiety and Chronic Pain
Did you know that expressive writing can decrease feelings of anxiety and stress similar to other more traditional anxiety treatment methods?
Research is demonstrating that expressive writing has a positive impact on these symptoms, with the added bonus of helping to reduce chronic pain.
The difference between traditional journaling and expressive writing is significant.
What is Expressive Writing?
Expressive writing is about tapping into emotions that are uncomfortable. Some people have identified anger, fear, guilt, resentment, and hopelessness as undesired feelings by default, suppress. The problem is that by not allowing ourselves to feel and express these emotions we run the risk of a myriad of physical issues and chronic pain issues.
Expressive writing is about getting to the root of your challenges, concerns, and pain (both physical and emotional). It is about going deep into your feelings and searching for patterns and themes that continue to surface in your life.
Conjuring up raw, intense emotions without censoring yourself can be very cathartic, yet scary. Therapists often describe it as channeling your inner 3-year-old. At that age, one knows how they feel and there is no filter to those emotions.
It is not uncommon for expressive writing to start out as…” I hate it, it’s not fair and I’m angry about this.” These prompts help because you do not have to intellectualize your feelings or make excuses for the person you feel anger towards. All you have to do is get in touch with those feelings, write them down and burn or throw that paper away, or speak it out loud where only you can hear it. Expressive Writing encourages you to develop a vulnerable, personal relationship with yourself, acknowledging parts that you’ve tried to store away and forget.
JournalSpeak™…A New Kind of Expressive Writing
JournalSpeak™ is a specific type of expressive writing that has been working wonders for people with chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Journal Speak™ was created by Nicole Sachs, LCSW, and influenced by the work of Dr. John Sarno.
You may be wondering how an emotion-based exercise helps with physical pain. Every year, more and more research comes out to back up the synergistic link between the mind and the body. By NOT expressing and processing your emotions, your body becomes tenser and stressed. This then leads to chronic pain or other chronic health challenges.
JournalSpeak™ has three main writing components to get you started:
- Past Stressors – Create a list of anything significant that pops into your mind about your past that caused you stress. It can be past relationships, trauma, moving, abuse or neglect, injury, embarrassing experiences, or regrets. Any memory, no matter how minor the event, that sparks an intense innate feeling, is worth writing down.
- Current Stressors – Create a list of anything that is happening in your life now that is difficult to manage.
- Personality Traits – This is the hard one because it’s difficult to acknowledge that our personality traits may play a part in the way we suppress emotions. Consider how your personality traits impact your stress level. For instance…the person with the “Type A” personality, the procrastinator, the helper. All of these traits contribute to our overall stress in one way or another.
Once you’ve got your lists, choose a topic to write about daily for 20 minutes. Try to come from a place of openness and non-judgment. Allow your emotions to freely come out without being censored. The purpose is to get to those core feelings that are deep down.
JournalSpeak™, like other forms of journaling, can be completed daily. It works well in a routine that also incorporates positive, uplifting, self-compassionate activities such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. Your therapist may suggest expressive writing to help you gain insight into how suppressed emotions impact current mood and physical pain.
My Personal Story with JournalSpeak™
The component of expressive writing that really resonated with me is discovering discomfort with our self-perception and how we want others to see us. I had a personal experience with expressive writing when I started getting migraines a few months ago. I have always viewed myself as an animal lover. Throughout my life I have had cats. In fact, at one time I owned a cat sitting business! The risk of that business is that clients reach out to you for assistance in rehoming their cats.
One afternoon, I had a client call and tell me that if I did not pick up their cat immediately, she was going to take him to the shelter. So, without much thought, I picked up the cat and brought him home. It has never been a good fit from day one.
Once I started working from home, I began to notice how destructive this cat was and how he bullied the other cats in the home. I started to resent this cat and regretted rescuing him.
The irony with expressive writing is that you never know what will come up as you start to write.
I was not aware of how much I not only disliked this cat but actually hated this cat. When I used expressive writing to write out my true feelings that made me feel uncomfortable, everything began to change and shift. The core issue was that my genuine emotions went against how I viewed myself and how I thought I should feel. Because of that, those core emotions became suppressed. After all, I don’t view myself as a person that hates – let alone hates an innocent cat.
The ability to embrace those feelings was liberating.
I was able to accept the way I felt and began being more open in other areas of my life, especially with friends and family. Surprisingly, their response was laughter and compassion because they were able to see a transformation that allowed me to be more emotionally vulnerable.
Once I TRULY allowed myself to feel and acknowledge my anger, my headaches stopped.
Acceptance and problem solving started. What can be done to help this cat deal with his anxiety? So, yes, this cat now has a cat behaviorist that is working with him to change his disruptive behavior. He is on medication and I am no longer feeling any hatred towards him.
This is a lighthearted example of how physical pain can manifest from repressed emotions. I encourage you to explore those feelings. Allow space for all of them. Use all your words to express how you feel and most of all, remember that there is no right or wrong way to do this exercise. Just feel your emotions and write them out.
Start Therapy in New Bern, NC
Life transitions, anxiety, chronic illness, and pain can all cause tumultuous feelings of being out of control. However, that relentlessness, irritability, and sense of dread you feel can be eased. Our therapists can teach you how to not give power to those unhelpful negative thoughts so you can take control of your life and start living again. We believe that you deserve it. Get started with therapy at our counseling practice in New Bern, NC with these steps:
1. Fill out this consult form.
2. Read about our skilled therapists.
3. Begin living a life with less anxiety and more joy!
Other Services at Renewed Wellness
At our New Bern, NC-based therapy practice, we offer more than just therapy for anxiety and stress. Our therapists specialize specifically in chronic illness counseling and addiction counseling. For those going through a life change, we also offer life transitions counseling. Let’s work together to get you to a good place!