We’ve all heard of the adage: a problem shared is a problem halved. Indeed, one study showed that 90% of people believed that a problem shared verbally with another would help them to cope better and make the problem easier to manage. (E. Zech 1999; ‘Is it Really Helpful to Verbalize One’s Emotions?’)
Zech and Rime published a fascinating study in 2005 titled ‘Is Talking About an Emotional Experience Helpful?’. Two groups of participants were asked to identify a particularly traumatic event in their lives such as death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job, significant illness etc. One group discussed the trauma at length as well as the coping strategies they were using, with a trained advisor whereas the other group merely chatted about mundane things such as the weather, what was on TV etc.
The two groups were then asked to complete a questionnaire in regards to how their mental state had changed. The group who spoke to a trained advisor expressed how they had found the process helpful (see above statistic for how many people find sharing a problem helpful).
However, once the questionnaires from the two groups were analysed in depth for changes in mindset and how they were coping there was a remarkable discovery. The mundane chats were just as effective in helping to cope as specifically talking about wellbeing strategies with a trained advisor! !
Surely, there must be something that is effective: more effective than ‘talking about it’. Fortunately there is and it’s very simple to do.
Write it down
In a study published in an article called ‘The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Wellbeing’ participants were asked to express their deepest thoughts in writing following losing their job. Participants noticed a tangible benefit in their wellbeing as a result of writing down their thoughts and the effects were also shown to be lasting.
Psychologists were puzzled how writing it down was more effective than talking about it. It seems that it’s to do with the way thoughts verbally expressed are often more chaotic, random and not always clear whereas expressing in words permits are more linear, cohesive thought pattern to emerge that, in turn, is easier to comprehend and have the desired impact.
Therefore, one of the most powerfully effective things that you can do to develop lasting coping strategies to help combat the effects of traumatic events is to write a journal and express your deepest thoughts that way rather than talking with someone. Writing it down really does work.