Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health
There is a long history in psychology and medicine linking the occurrence of traumatic
experiences with subsequent physical and mental health problems.
What is it about a trauma that
Several candidates immediately come to mind.
upheavals provoke intense and long-lasting emotional changes.
The unexpected events are
generally associated with cognitive disruption including rumination and attempts to understand
what happened and why.
Socially, traumas are known to cause wholesale disruptions in people’s
Behaviorally, and perhaps because of the social and psychological changes,
traumas are often associated with lifestyle changes such as unhealthy smoking, drinking,
exercise, sleeping, and eating patterns.
Each of these psychological, social, and behavioral
effects is associated with a host of biological changes including elevations in cortisol, immune
disruption, cardiovascular changes, and a cascade of neurotransmitter changes.
Individuals who are highly reactive to novel stimuli (Vaidya & Garfield, 2003), are
highly anxious (Miller, 2003), avoidant, and self-blaming (Sutker, Davis, Uddo, & Ditta, 1995),
and high in hypnotic ability (Bower & Sivers, 1998) may be particularly susceptible to traumatic
Similarly, the more extreme the trauma and the longer time over which it lasts are
predictors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) incidence (e.g., Breslau, Chilcoat, Kessler,
& Davis, 1999).
It is also generally agreed that people most prone to PTSD have had a history of
depression, trauma, and other PTSD episodes in the past even prior to their most recent traumatic
experience (cf., Miller, 2003).
Perhaps more surprising than the discovery of the trauma-illness link is in realizing that
most people don’t become sick after a trauma. There is another group of perhaps 30% who do
not evidence PTSD symptoms but are still upset by the experience several weeks and months