Writing About Past Failures Attenuates Cortisol Responses and Sustained Attention Deficits Following Psychosocial Stress

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5876604/

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Expressive writing and post-traumatic stress disorder: effects on trauma symptoms, mood states, and cortisol reactivity.

Br J Health Psychol. 2008 Feb;13(Pt 1):85-93. doi: 10.1348/135910707X250866.

Smyth JM1, Hockemeyer JR, Tulloch H.

This study investigates the boundary conditions (feasibility, safety, and efficacy) of an expressive writing intervention for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD].

DESIGN:

Randomized trial with baseline and 3-month follow-up measures of PTSD severity and symptoms, mood states, post-traumatic growth, and (post-only) cortisol reactivity to trauma-related stress.

METHODS:

Volunteers with a verified diagnosis of PTSD (N=25) were randomly assigned to an experimental group (writing about their traumatic experience) or control group (writing about time management).

RESULTS:

Expressive writing was acceptable to patients with PTSD and appeared safe to utilize. No changes in PTSD diagnosis or symptoms were observed, but significant improvements in mood and post-traumatic growth were observed in the expressive writing group. Finally, expressive writing greatly attenuated neuroendocrine (cortisol) responses to trauma-related memories.

CONCLUSIONS:

The present study provides insight into several boundary conditions of expressive writing. Writing did not decrease PTSD-related symptom severity. Although patients continue to exhibit the core features of PTSD, their capacity to regulate those responses appears improved following expressive writing. Dysphoric mood decreased after writing and when exposed to traumatic memories, participants’ physiological response is reduced and their recovery enhanced.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18230238