There are a lot of benefits associated with writing, such as improving productivity, communication, and so on. However, research carried out by Dr. James W. Pennebaker, an American social psychologist, found that students who wrote about traumatic events in their life used pain relievers less often and visited the health center in the campus less often.
Writing in detail about your emotions has proven to be a great way to relieve stress, manage anxiety, and cope with certain mental health issues. Expressive writing is an excellent channel through which the writer can purge out your thoughts, sort out emotions with some clarity, and bring peace to your mind.
Although the benefits of writing are numerous, it requires practice in order for you to express your emotions in writing clearly. You might be confused about what to write, when you should write, how you should write, and even where you should write.
When it comes to keeping fit physically, we can fairly easily pick up dieting, workouts, medications, and visits to the doctor. But unfortunately, when it comes to our mental health, a lot of us just let it fall by the wayside. Poorly managed mental health can lead to migraines, sleeplessness, depression, overeating, fatigue, etc.
Mental health matters because it has an impact on every part of your life. It covers your work performance and your relationships with family, friends, and colleagues, as well as other personal areas like your well-being, how you push yourself intellectually, your confidence, your sense of gratitude, your happiness, and all-around self-fulfillment.
In this article, we will walk you through how to start writing and the numerous ways it improves mental health.
Now, let’s walk through a few questions you might have as you start expressing your emotions and thoughts through writing.
Express your emotions honestly. It helps if you can capture the feeling of the moment as it occurs in your mind. When you try to structure your experience differently from how your mind has actually perceived it, your view can become distorted, defeating your goal and not helping your mental health.
It is a great idea to have the same time scheduled to write every day. This helps to build a habit of consistency, making writing almost second nature.
The time of day you choose to write is also an important factor. I prefer to write in the evening. At this time of day, most significant events have occurred, so you get to journal about everything that happened to you during the day.
Alternatively, you can choose to write early in the morning at dawn, when your mind is fresh and you are more likely to express yourself clearly on paper.
When looking for a spot to write, find a setting that is most comfortable for you. A quiet and serene place can help you think more clearly and have privacy for your thoughts. A calm setting is also more likely to trigger a flow state, as there are less distractions, allowing you to really focus on your true and honest emotions in the moment.
Your writing can easily be done in any way you see fit, be it in a diary, a journal, electronic notes, or even a blog.
Think of what is troubling your mind. What gets you all worried and worked up? It could be a fight with a friend, work trouble, a dream, or memories you’ve been trying to repress.
Whatever it is, you need to be true to yourself. It may be scary at first, but honestly, after you’ve filled a paper with everything that’s been bringing you down, you’ll not only feel 10 times better overall, but your mental health will thank you in the long run.
Now that we’ve looked at the basics of writing to clear your mind, let’s examine how this practice can improve not just your mental health, but your physical health, as well.
When your mental health is not at its best, your sleep pattern is one of the first things that is affected. Continuous lack of sleep can lead to excessive strain and anxiety. For individuals who are emotionally stressed or have nightmares as a result of a traumatic experience, writing can prove to be an amazingly inexpensive cure.
In a 2013 TIME magazine report, senior lecturer in health psychology Elizabeth Broadbent and her research team at the University of Auckland in New Zealand carried out a study using 49 healthy senior citizens between the ages of 64 and 97. The participants were divided into two groups. One group was instructed to write about their traumatic experiences for three days and the other group was asked to write down the things they would do the next day, but nothing about any past traumatic experiences. The report showed the group that was asked to journal about their traumatic experiences had better sleep than the other group.
The same study also revealed that the physical wounds of participants who journaled about their past traumas healed quicker. Two weeks after the first day of writing, Broadbent and her group took skin snip biopsies under local anesthesia, leaving an injury on the arm of each participant. One week later, researchers started photographing the wounds regularly for three to five days until they were completely healed. Eleven days post-biopsy, 76% of one group had fully healed while only 42% of the other group had healed.
Although writing as an effective way to release stress and anxiety isn’t a new concept, more research has been conducted in recent times to support that belief.
Associate professor of psychology and director of Michigan State University’s (MSU) Clinical Psychophysiology Lab Dr. Jason Moser states that when you express yourself in writing, your mind is calmer when thinking of an upcoming task you may find stressful. This is because when we are consumed with worrying about how stressful the task is likely going to be, we often get “burned out.”
In the study carried out by Dr. Moser and his research team at MSU in 2017, they found that writing is an excellent outlet for people dealing with anxiety. It tones down the feeling of worry and the tendency to overthink.
Harboring many thoughts in your mind without expressing them is prone to take a toll on your mental health and can make you feel depressed. Research has shown that writing is an excellent way to fight depression.
As published by the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2013, a group of psychologists in the United States carried out research using 40 participants diagnosed with major depressive disorder. On the first day of testing, the participants were given a series of questionnaires and cognitive tasks.
The participants were then randomly placed into two groups. In one group, they were asked to write down their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding an emotional event. Participants wrote for 20 minutes each day for three days. The second group of participants was asked to control their emotions and write about non-emotional daily activities each day.
On the fifth day, participants completed another set of questionnaires and cognitive measures. The same tests were repeated four weeks later, and the final results showed that participants that were allowed to write about their emotions showed a significant decline in depression scores.
Writing regularly is an excellent form of exercise for your brain. When you write, your memory, motor skills, and much more are being engaged.
Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, in a Wall Street Journal article, states that the sequential finger movement that occurs when you are writing activates the thought, language, and memory region in the brain.
Writing is also a recommended cognitive exercise for aging individuals who want to keep their minds sharp.
You can also learn to express your feelings and write in different languages because learning new languages helps boost the brain. Additionally, writing helps to improve your concentration and decision-making abilities, makes you feel more creative, and also provides a peek into your subconscious mind.
Suffering from any kind of traumatic event can be devastating, and the road to recovery is usually a long one. Writing can help you start to relieve stress, and this significantly contributes to healing from traumatic experiences, and reduce the severe symptoms that can accompany trauma.
When you write down the thoughts that haunt your mind, you stop ruminating on and worrying about them. Writing frees up your mind so you can manage your emotions better and handle the stress that could trigger a relapse.
We are often overwhelmed with day-to-day life, focusing on our worries, yet forgetting to appreciate the happy moments in our lives. When writing down your thoughts, it is also essential to write down the little things that you are grateful for.
Writing it all down could give us a clearer picture of the happy moments in our lives. But because we often focus on the negative, it can feel like there are more sad than happy thoughts. When we include gratitude in our writing, it can increase optimism, help you see the progress you are making, and boost your long-term well-being.
Writing is like food for the soul. It can be very therapeutic, and works wonders on your mental health. When we write down our feelings, thoughts, experiences, and actions, it allows us to carve out and maintain our sense of self, solidifying our identities within us.
You become more reflective of your experiences with a clear head and fresh perspective, and are able to express yourself, all of which promotes a happy and healthy mind. Happy writing!
Anna is a specialist in different types of writing. She graduated from the Interpreters Department, but creative writing became her favorite type of work. Now she improves her skills while working as a freelance writer and translator for TheWordPoint and has free time for another writing work, as well. She always does her best when writing posts and articles.