Have you heard of Ironic Process Theory?
  • Try not to think of a Siamese cat for the next minute.
  • Were you able to do it?
Are you aware of the physiological and cognitive changes involved with bottling things up?
  • Think back to the last time you did this.
Are you aware that it is more taxing to have unfinished business on your mind?
  • Bluma Zeigarnik (1927) discovered that you are more likely to remember a movie’s details if you don’t finish the ending.
Did you know that processing events with language is a psychologically proven tool that can change our impressions of how situations relate to us and our reactions to them?
  • Have you ever thought you knew something but then struggled to explain it to someone?
  • Were you aware that processing events with language is the cornerstone to Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD?
Expressive writing (or journaling) is a tool one can use to process stressful events/situations. Experiments have shown that it can improve our physiological reactions, unburden cognitive processes, improve sleep and help us process events in a manner that is more adaptive.
Journaling has been found to be a helpful coping strategy for life’s stresses. However, it’s effects are not immediate and like any longer term investment, at first it can be challenging at times. Think about sowing the seeds for a plentiful harvest. Have you thought about how you will deal with unpleasant experiences that may arise from the journaling exercise? Some common game plans include:
  1. Involve a health care professional in your care.
  2. Have a strong social network system – friends & family.
  3. Have a healthy lifestyle.
  4. Learn some grounding skills.
  5. Self-regulation techniques as taught with the use of biofeedback.
  6. Combine with psychotherapy.
Find a time and a place that will be relaxing and free of distractions. This may require some energy or time management skills.
For a few minutes, think about how the stressful event has affected your life and your experience of life.
Write down your deepest thoughts and emotions surrounding the stressful event. Write it in which ever way it comes out: song, haiku, limericks, ‘Coles’ notes, story, etc.
Who cares?! Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Write it in which ever way it comes out. The exercise is about getting in touch with your thoughts and emotions, not with exercising your left temporal and parietal lobes’ verbal expression and complex grammatical abilities.
Did you know that memories can have many different perspectives beyond just visualizing it? The pneumonic (BASK) helps one appreciate the different perspectives. For example, take a memory you had from last summer where you went for some ice cream. B – Behaviour: I can see myself licking the ice cream. A – Affect: I remember feeling enjoyment then. S – Sensation: I remember the flavour and the coolness of the ice cream on my tongue. K – Knowledge: I remember I had gone to a new ice cream parlour with Betty and Kaviraj right after we watched Journey from Milan to Minsk. Sometimes, some of these perspectives are repressed and need to be addressed to move on. Like this, even if it feels redundant, be as descriptive as you can so you can increase your awareness and clarity of your thoughts and emotions.
Have your thoughts or emotions changed as a result of what you wrote? Did you know that memories are dynamic rather than fixed. Dr. Karim Nader, professor of psychology at McGill University, says that every time someone recalls a memory, it’s a chance to change it. When you think about it, who doesn’t like a good redemption story? Changing the context or perspective of a memory can actually change where it is stored in the brain and the proteins that are laid down and the neurotransmitters that are used.
Keeping what you wrote will allow you to look back from time-to-time and see how your thoughts and and emotions have changed; or how your efficiency in coping with stresses has changed. Some people prefer to shred it if they don’t want others finding it and reading it over.
We all have daily stresses. For those of us who have found ourselves saying “when it rains, it pours”, it may be a good idea to set aside some time daily as a sort of journaling ritual.

Hardt, O., Einarsson, E. & Nader, K. (2010). A bridge over troubled water: Reconsolidation as a link between cognitive and neuroscienctific memory research traditions. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 141-67. Demos, John N. Getting Started with EEG Neurofeedback. W. W. Norton & Company. 2nd Edition (2019)

Research & writing: Dr. Taher Chugh & Mojtaba Garshasb

Last Updated: March 2020