How Writing Can Improve Your Mental Health – Guest Post
How Writing Can Improve Your Mental Health
By Christine H.
One day, my 8-year-old reading student stormed into my house, fuming and distracted. Although I tried to start her on some exercises after the opening preliminaries, I couldn’t get her to focus on me. Finally I pushed a blank paper in front of her. “Why don’t you write down what’s bothering you? And then we can start the lesson if you’re ready.”
She wrote her words so forcefully she had to sharpen her pencil twice. But as soon as it was done, we folded up the paper and put it aside and her crystal-clear focus was back on me. It was amazing to see the weight that seemed to be lifted from her. In the end, the source of her rage was just a misunderstanding between her and her sister. But something about writing it down made it feel valid and clear, so she was able to let it go and put it aside.
I’d had a feeling that it might work for her, because that’s always worked for me.
Some people take out their feelings at the gym. Some people eat to drown their emotions, and some lash out at the next person to say “hi” to them. Me, I write it all down. I used to think that I was alone in this technique, but I’ve gradually learned that it’s not only a popular therapy technique… it’s also backed by some amazing scientific evidence.
For example, one New Zealand study found that writing about your feelings could actually speed physical recovery, as demonstrated by the rate at which cuts healed in their test subjects. Isn’t that crazy? Other research projects have found that writing can help you feel more positive, proactive, and fulfilled.
How does it work? Well, for one thing, tapping into your emotional core helps you be more creative, which can help you find value in hardship and perspective through trials. Writing your feelings can also allow you to adjust the narrative you have of your own life. When you write it down, you can catch faulty thinking and choose to focus on things that will benefit you the most.
For another thing, writing can help you feel like you’re truly communicating. I know for some people it feels less authentic than a face to face conversation, but I truly believe that when it comes to the harder and more sensitive topics, sometimes writing it down helps you to be more truthful and exact, and communicate everything at once without fear of rejection or adjustment from others.
I know that as someone who actually writes for a living, taking some time now and then for expressive writing is essential. It clears the palate and helps you focus more on the words that you actually have to edit and trim for public consumption. As this article mentions, it gives you a creative outlet where the pressure is off.
Writing for mental health is often called expressive writing. Whether you’re using it to get over a breakup, battle depression, tap into your creative side, or solve a problem in your life, here are a few ways that you can start utilizing expressive writing for your mental health.
- Write a letter to someone important in your life: You can be brutally honest, because it’s not something you ever have to share. You can write it to an ex, to someone in your family that hurt you, or even to your 5th grade teacher. You can write it to a “might have been” or to someone who passed away years ago. Frame the things that you want to say to them. And remember, you can write any kind of letters. Some might be grateful. Some can be sad. Others might be full of anger or blame. Write whatever’s inside and then burn it afterward if you want.
- Keep a dream journal: I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “I never dream. Or if I do, I don’t remember my dreams.” I used to think that too. But keeping a dream journal will usually change that. See, when you’re thinking about your dreams, and recording them, you start to remember them better and better. In fact, some people even teach themselves to direct their dreams. Start by writing what you’d like to dream each night before going to bed. In the morning, write down anything you can remember, even if it’s just a mood or color. Gradually, things will get more interesting.
- Start a blog or website: This has helpful ramifications for a lot of people. For one thing, it helps you connect through your writing, and disconnection is an epidemic that’s becoming more and more common in our culture. Just make sure that you don’t start judging your own worth (and that of your internal world) by how many likes and follows you get. However, for people who aren’t just about the bare text itself, the web offers multimedia opportunities to express yourself. We all know that therapy isn’t solely about words, and different forms of storytelling can help you stay creative and honest.
- Try some free association writing: Write down a word or phrase that you’d like to explore your feelings about on a piece of paper. It might be something like “having a baby” or “connection” or “self-worth.” Then, put the paper aside and meditate for 5-10 minutes. Don’t consciously focus on the topic. Instead, try to clear your mind. Focus on your breath, on the sound of a fan, the way your body feels. If you have a hard time meditating, look up a guided meditation on Youtube. After your meditation period, return to your piece of paper and write down as much as you can on the subject. Don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure, just get it all down. You might be surprised at what you find and where your mind goes.
- Keep a gratitude journal: Did you know that people who keep gratitude journals are actually said to sleep better, exercise more, and be more optimistic in life? Just keep a notebook by your bed and write down a few sentences each night before you sleep.