Sharing health psychology wisdom: Do you self-disclose?

We’re still less than halfway through the semester, yet the stress is very much real. Readings that never seem to end, energy-sapping studying that leaves your brain feeling as though it’s falling to pieces, finger cramping from writing or typing, and looming deadlines that are replaced each time we finish an assignment. If your cortisol levels are raised, you’re not alone… But I may be able to help with that.

 As I’ve been working through the semester, I’ve taken note of information that is not only interesting but also applicable to real life. In my Health Psychology course especially, there’s a gold mine of useful research. However, nothing quite caught my attention like the section on emotional self-disclosure, and if you’re interested in learning a new way–or perhaps even expanding on one–to manage stress, I encourage you to continue reading.

According to the ninth edition of Health Psychology: An Introduction to Behavior and Health, by Brannon, Updegraff, and Feist, emotional self-disclosure is a stress coping technique mainly used for dealing with physically and/or psychologically traumatic experiences. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from it in the same ways if you’re simply using it for chronic or elevated stress. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Emotional self-disclosure presents both physical and psychological health gains, including improvements for cases of depression, asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. If you don’t believe in the mind-body connection, this method is a perfect example of the links between the two. 

So, how do you do it? Easy! With emotional self-disclosure, you are simply translating your emotional experiences into words. But of course, it’s not as simple as it sounds. This coping technique requires self-reflection; you need to be able to examine how you feel, what caused that state, what your thoughts surrounding the experience are, and potentially what you plan to do to address the feelings. And again, all of this must be either written or spoken communication. And this is where the diversity of the technique becomes apparent. You are in control of how you convey the messages–the style, the tone, the word choice–and the medium that you prefer. You can write in a journal, blog, compose poetry, or even talk to someone you feel comfortable with–just remember that this should be more than just venting. 

Now, the textbook recommends fifteen to twenty minutes of self-disclosure three to four times a week, but understandably, not all of us have the time and patience for that. But that’s okay. Any amount of emotional self-disclosure is beneficial, and in particular, the effects are strongest for those who experience more stress, who write alone, who emphasize the positive aspects of the experience (which takes effort–but trust me: it pays off), and who develop a solution for the cause of the emotions. Think about it: Do you feel better when you list off everything that went wrong in your day or when you use the extra energy to point out the things that went right (no matter how insignificant they may seem in comparison)? And when you put off something that’s causing stress, such as working on a research paper, does it end up causing more or less stress in the end? What if you laid out steps for writing that paper and worked on it a step at a time? That’s why while it’s good to be honest about your emotions when self-disclosing, you should also devote more attention to the positives (even when they don’t seem to be there) and to ridding yourself of–or at least reducing–the stressor. 

If everything above hasn’t convinced you to give emotional self-disclosure a try, then maybe more research will. A study by Pennebaker, Barger, and Tiebout from 1989 found that survivors of the Holocaust who participated in self-disclosure of emotionally painful experiences were more likely to end up with better health than those who only disclosed experiences that were less stressful. So, even talking about past experiences is advantageous. And if you prefer to hear it from me, blogging, journaling, writing poetry, and talking to close friends have all been extremely helpful in resolving my emotional conflicts and lowering my stress levels. In fact, taking a break from my school work to write these blogs is therapeutic. 

So, if you’re struggling with keeping your stress within a healthy range or you have some trauma that you haven’t fully faced, set aside some time to write or talk to someone about it. It may seem inconvenient at times–and even I sometimes have to force myself to sit down and do it–but the emotional and physical rewards are more than worth that initial annoyance. And remember to experiment and find what works best for you!

Also, if you read my other article on stress management, you may remember that I touched on mindfulness training. If you’re curious about exploring that area a bit more, I recommend A Book That Takes Its Time: An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness. This is one of the books that I used for my PEDS yoga course, and I have fallen in love with it since then. It’s a beautifully detailed book full of crafts, self-reflections, and articles that help draw you into a state of mindfulness and that provides endless entertainment and variety. It has a feminine style, but I still recommend it no matter who you are.


I wish the best for all of you in your stress-management endeavors.

Nursing students unite!