Can Writing Improve Your Mental Health?
Overthinking is stressful. Perhaps you experienced a traumatic event or a major life change, or maybe you’re caught up in a pattern of stress and it’s difficult to find your way out. Ruminating on the stress just makes it worse, so use your Passion Planner to transform that inward pressure with an outward activity. According to The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, using expressive writing as a tool to deal with challenges improves our ability to manage stress and our internal and external communication skills. Your Passion Planner has built-in tools to help you maintain an expressive writing routine.
Writing Without Borders
Expressive writing, often also called journaling, is the process of writing about an event or emotion that affects your life. The trick to writing expressively is to avoid perfectionism – do not worry about grammar or spelling. Use your Passion Planner’s journal and gratitude log as your own intimate and reflective space. You might want to set some guidelines for yourself, such as writing for at least 20 minutes (set a timer), and strive to be as honest as possible. Add journaling as a goal in your Passion RoadMap. You might find it difficult to start the activity at first, but keep trying and keep practicing – remember that no one is grading you or judging your thoughts.
Almost anyone would admit a need to vent once in a while. Sometimes expressive writing can be just that – a release of emotions or thoughts we keep bottled inside. Other times, writing allows us an actual visual representation of what is going on inside our brains, so it provides insight to stressors or outside influences we did not even know were problematic. If we know what our stressors are, we can more effectively deal with them. According to a study reported in the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, patients in an expressive writing group experienced significantly better physical and psychological health than those individuals who wrote only about neutral topics. Challenging ourselves to write about uncomfortable things increases our ability to process and release tension. When it’s too tough to write about the hard stuff, use the Passion Planner’s “Good Things That Happened” section to reflect on what makes you happy.
Getting to Know Yourself
Is strengthening your relationship with yourself and others around you a part of your Passion RoadMap? One reason why expressive writing is so important for mental health is because it unlocks the way you see yourself and others around you. For example, you don’t always know what causes your depression or anxiety. Writing about events or thoughts might help you recognize your symptoms or triggers. It might also highlight how often you talk about yourself negatively; identifying negative self-talk encourages us to change the narrative and implement more positive self-talk. Once you know more about your problems or concerns, you can prioritize and deal with them.Write actionable steps towards handling stressors, which improves organization and problem-solving skills; consider adding reminders in your monthly and weekly layouts.
Writing isn’t just for yourself – it strengthens relationships with the people around us by encouraging us to communicate more intelligently; if we can write about our thoughts and put them into words, we can speak verbally in a similar manner. For example, imagine your writing highlights increased anxiety after interactions with a colleague. Write steps in your Passion Plan to deal with this realization, including self-talk to protect yourself when you’re around that person or talking directly to that person to resolve issues.
Writing as Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a buzzword, and many individuals, particularly those with mental health issues, are encouraged to meditate. However, meditation is not the only way to achieve mindfulness, and we can practice this skill in multiple areas of our lives. Expressive writing at its core embodies mindfulness because it encourages a judgement-free zone where you can write whatever you want, and as you write, you stay in that present moment. Before you begin writing, take a few moments for some deep inhales and exhales and acknowledge any thoughts that come to mind, but don’t try to change or steer your thoughts in any particular direction. Shamash Alidina for Mindful.org suggests starting writing with no clear aim, so you just naturally let your thoughts out onto the page.
Expressive writing not only improves our mental state, but also affects physiological symptoms of stress or depression. According to teen treatment facility Newport Academy, writing boosts immune function, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep.
Considering the physical and mental health benefits of writing, find a time to sit quietly (or not-so-quietly, depending how active your anxiety might be), and allow yourself to just write. Don’t forget to use the monthly reflection pages to check out your progress.
Cara Batema is a freelance writer and musician based in Los Angeles. She likes to write about the arts and psychology.