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How Veterans can Navigate Change through Writing

Facing a major change such as separating from military service and readjusting to civilian life can be challenging for many veterans. Writing down your thoughts, feelings and experiences in a journal is one way to support your well-being throughout the transition process. Learn how you can start writing to strengthen your psychological health with the tips and resources below.

The Benefits of Writing Down Your Thoughts

The simple act of writing down your thoughts can enable you to see, process and understand stress you may be experiencing. It can help you maintain a sense of control when life feels unpredictable and provide structure to anxious feelings or thoughts that may negatively influence your outlook. Writing down your thoughts can also help you:

  • Release tension and settle the mind
  • Boost your mood
  • Release negative thoughts about a challenging situation, and instead connect with its positive qualities
  • Note patterns in your thoughts, feelings or behaviors
  • Increase self-confidence and identify solutions

5 Tips to Jumpstart Your Writing

Whether you jot down a few sentences or write a few pages, writing can be a helpful tool when facing change. Here are five tips to help you get started and stick with it:

  1. Find a format you enjoy. Whether it’s a notebook, mobile app or a personal computer, pick a writing format you’re comfortable with.
  2. Choose a time and place. Set aside 15 minutes once per week or a few days per week to build a routine. Find a quiet space to write where you are less likely to be distracted.
  3. Reflect on the recent past. Write freely about how you feel or what emotions you experienced today. Or, perhaps write down five things you experienced in the past week for which you’re grateful. It’s fine to start by listing people, experiences or things that come to mind. As you continue to practice you might then go further and describe why you’re grateful for them. Research shows being specific when expressing gratitude can increase positive emotions.
  4. Focus on the positive. When facing a stressful situation, identifying its positive aspects or focusing on the bigger picture can promote personal growth. Consider writing about a situation that may have turned out better than you expected, or what you learned from a challenging experience.
  5. Keep it in sight. To help you build a consistent routine, keep your writings where you can easily see and access them. If you’re writing in a notebook, keep it next to your bed. If you’re using an app on your mobile phone or tablet, move the app to a noticeable place on your home screen (or put a shortcut on your desktop if you’re using a computer).

Reach Out for Professional Support and Other Resources

Writing is just one way to express emotions. There are other methods and resources available, including working with a provider. Also, there are many free tools and resources available to veterans, including support from the VA and confidential services that can be accessed from any device anywhere in the world. Contact:

Psychological Health Resource Center

Use Real Warriors Live Chat or call 866-966-1020 to speak confidentially with a trained health resource consultant for free, 24/7. Live Chat is available OCONUS from desktop and mobile devices.

Your Local Vet Center

Find your local Vet Center to access readjustment counseling and outreach services at no cost.

Your Local VA Medical Center

Find your local VA Medical Center to access health care facilities and community care providers near you.

Additional Resources

Sources

Gratitude Journal (Greater Good in Action). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/gratitude_journal.

Journaling for Mental Health. In University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1

Pennebaker, J. W. (2018). Expressive Writing in Psychological Science. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(2), 226–229. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691617707315

Pennebaker, James W. “Writing to Heal - A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval,” Oakland, Calif.: New Harbinger Press, 2004.

Rash, J. A., Matsuba, M. K. and Prkachin, K. M. (2011), Gratitude and Well‐Being: Who Benefits the Most from a Gratitude Intervention? Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 3: 350-369. doi:10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01058.x