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Writing to Ease Grief

Some research suggests that disclosing deep emotions through writing can boost immune function as well as mood and well-being. Conversely, the stress of holding in strong feelings can ratchet up blood pressure and heart rate and increase muscle tension.

Sooner or later, everyone will grieve the loss of a close relative or friend, whether the cause is a sudden heart attack, a car accident, or the stresses of disease or age. The passing of someone close to you begins a process that, while painful, is normal and expected. It’s common to feel overwhelmed at first by the depth and intensity of your loss. Here, from the experts at Harvard Medical School, is advice about keeping a journal to help you process feelings of grief:

1) Deeply troubling situations, such as suicide or a violent death, are best explored with the help of an experienced therapist. You might want to seek professional support to get you started on dealing with your grief before trying journal writing.

2) Although writing about grief and loss can trigger strong emotions — you may cry or feel deeply upset — many people find journal writing valuable and meaningful and report feeling better afterward.

3) Truly let go. Write down how you feel and why you feel that way. You’re writing for yourself, not others. Don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure.

4) Try writing for 15 to 30 minutes a day for three to four days, or as long as a week if you feel writing continues to be helpful. You could also try writing for 15 to 30 minutes once a week for a month. One review of research on journal writing found that writing has stronger effects when it extends over more days.

For more on ways to process and deal with grief, buy Coping with Grief and Loss, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.