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Recover by Writing

...suggestions from James Pennebaker, Ph.D.

Dozens of studies now show that writing about upsetting experiences can be helpful in reducing their hold on us. If you are finding that you are thinking, dreaming, or worrying too much about the September 11 attacks, consider the following writing exercises.

  1. Find a place where you will not be disturbed. You can write by hand or on a computer -- whatever you are most comfortable with. If you don't want to write, you can also talk into a tape recorder.

  2. Plan on your writing for a minimum of three days and a minimum of 15 minutes a day. The only rule is that you write continuously. If you run out of things to say, simply repeat what you have already written.

  3. Instructions: Really let go and write about your very deepest thoughts and feelings about the September 11 attacks. How are these attacks related to other parts of your life? For example, how do they tie into issues associated with your childhood, your relationship with your family and friends, and the life you have now. How might they be related to your future, your past, or who you are now? Why are you feeling the ways you are and what other issues are being brought up by this?

  4. You can write about the same general topic every day or a different one each day. Don't worry about spelling or grammar. Your writing is for you and you alone. Many people throw away their writing samples as soon as they are finished. Others keep them and even edit them.

  5. Be your own experimenter. Try writing in different ways. If you find that you are getting too upset in your writing, then back off and change directions. Your goal here is to better understand your thoughts and feelings associated with the attacks. See which approach to writing works best for you.

I hope this is helpful.

Jamie Pennebaker

James Pennebaker: pennebaker@psy.utexas.edu, author of Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion, website: September 11, 2001 Attacks: What is Your Perspective?

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