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How writing can help veterans readjust to civilian life
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Recent research shows the value of picking up a pen and writing down what you're feeling. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
When veterans are worried or stressed about acclimating to everyday life, they may just need a pen and paper to feel better, according to a new study, published last month in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

The research suggested that writing about their return home helps veterans manage anger and psychological distress, echoing earlier work on the mental health benefits of personal writing.

Nearly 1,300 veterans, all of whom had reported difficulty reintegrating into civilian life, participated in the study. Researchers divided them into three groups: the first received no treatment; the second was assigned four factual writing prompts; and the third was assigned four expressive writing prompts.

"Overall, the researchers found a fair amount of evidence that expressive writing helped veterans albeit with effect sizes that weren't huge," Science of Us reported. "The more noteworthy differences were between the writers and the nonwriters."

These researchers join a variety of other scholars who have studied the benefits of writing about events in the past, current frustrations and future goals, the article noted.

"Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person's health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory," The New York Times reported in January.

According to those who've explored the benefits of writing, the practice helps people sort out the causes of their stress.

"Writing interventions can really nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle," said Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, to the Times.

And for men and women who've lived through traumatic experiences, such as veterans or victims of sexual assault, writing is a way to work through complex emotions, as BBC News reported in a 2013 article on personal writing.

"If you keep your emotions bottled up it's going to make you sick, or you're going to get an ulcer, or you're going to have a psychological disorder," said Laura King, editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, to BBC News.

Writing appears to be a free and easy way to boost your emotional health. However, it can be hard to start a regular practice, as Science of Us noted in its coverage of the veteran study.

"It might be a hard habit to get into the authors (noted) that, on average, their study participants completed less than three of the four writing sessions but there's increasing evidence that it's worth the effort," the article reported.