"Keeping a journal and writing about stressful experiences lowers the level of stress, and people feel better," says James Gordon, director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, who has worked in war and post-war situations for six years. "What a journal does, in an uncensored way, is allow you to explore all the dimensions of your feelings."

The act of writing down what could be a roller coaster of emotions provides a release. And with your thoughts and feelings on paper, you can clarify them and start understanding what's troubling you.

If you've never kept a journal before (or you haven't done it in a while), here's how to get started.

* Buy a notebook: A simple spiral-bound provides plenty of space to write, and it travels easily.

* Let your thoughts flow: Put pen to paper and write anything that comes to mind.

* Write fast: Forget about grammar, punctuation and penmanship.

* If you're self-conscious, write about being self-conscious and see where it leads. Keep the pen moving: Don't censor your thoughts or criticize your writing. It's the process that has psychic value, not necessarily the literary quality of the product.

* Stop when you are ready to stop.

* Try to write something every day, whether it's a few sentences or several pages.

Remember that a journal is very personal, so there's no right or wrong way. "It's a process of self-discovery," says Gordon.

-- Karen-Lee Ryan