How Students Can Use Expressive Writing to Navigate Uncertainty

It’s a tough time to be a senior, whether you’re in the golden years of life or just trying to graduate from high school or college. Students are missing out on milestones they’ve eagerly anticipated for most of their lives—commencement ceremonies, proms, awards banquets and celebrations with friends. Many students spent years preparing for their first dream job, only to have entire sectors of the economy undergo hiring freezes. The uncertainty about what the future holds brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is placing enormous financial and emotional burdens on young people.

Set Your Mind Free Through Writing

Expressive writing offers a highly accessible way for students to process their emotions and navigate disappointments and perceived failures. Writing in a journal may be as effective as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for reducing symptoms of depression in high-risk adolescents. Just three consecutive days of journaling reduced depressive symptoms in college students as much as six months later. Writing helps people cope emotionally by enabling them to organize their thoughts, make sense of an experience, and as a result, break free from endless cycles of worry or brooding. Expressing yourself privately may also make you more likely to reach out for social support.

Addressing trauma or disappointment head-on is important for your overall health: students who wrote about a traumatic event for just 15 minutes a day for four days visited the campus health center less often and used a pain reliever less frequently than students who wrote about inconsequential topics. Expressive writing has also been found to reduce symptoms of depression and improve mood in the long-term. These results suggest that writing serves as an emotional release valve, alleviating the additional stress and pressure that can build by keeping it all inside.

How to Get Started with Expressive Writing

Perhaps, you’d like to give writing for wellness a try, but don’t know where to start.  You can experiment with some of the ideas below to get those words flowing. And remember that expressive writing comes from your heart—it’s personal and emotional and free from the rules of grammar and punctuation so let loose and enjoy.

Prompts to Fill a Blank Page:

Writing to Celebrate Missed Milestones:

  • Write your own commencement speech and share it with friends in a virtual graduation ceremony.
  • Celebrate your friends by creating your own superlatives and awards for a virtual awards banquet.

This is article is a part of IAM Lab’s regularly updated COVID-19 NeuroArts Field Guide. Be sure to check the Guide for the latest, evidence-based tips on how the arts can support our wellbeing during the pandemic.

We would also like to hear from you: Are you, your loved ones or colleagues dealing with specific issues and want to learn more about art-based solutions?  Are you already using the arts to help you cope?   

Please share your thoughts, ideas and concerns with us at  Be well and stay safe.

Lead Image: Brad Neathery / Unsplash

COVID-19 Mental Health Wellbeing Writing