Writing can heal.
You have probably heard of the health benefits of undertaking activities like yoga, meditation or psychotherapy. But these activities do not help everyone. We all have different needs, preferences and interests. I would like to talk about a method you might be acquainted with – writing.
Some of us keep a personal diary to record our own daily life events. For some, writing down our activities is a cathartic process that can enable us to make sense of what has happened in our lives.
Writing is not a gender or age specific technique. For some, writing can help the person to move on from a potentially stressful or traumatic event like a family bereavement, divorce, car accident or loss of one’s job.
After experiencing a stressful event we may have difficulty sleeping because we are thinking about it all night, or we may be distracted from daily activities such as work or socialising. This is basically multi-tasking and when we multi-task, we often do less well because we are not paying full attention to what we are doing.
Through a technique known as, ‘expressive writing,’ we can take a step away from what is troubling us and evaluate what has happened. We create a narrative we can ‘see’.
Expressive writing enables us to become active participants in our own stories and gives us a stronger sense of self-control. Traumatic and stressful experiences can make our stories fractured and less coherent. With concrete sets of reinforced instructions, the stories we then create through expressive writing can help structure and give coherence to these stories, thus making the experience more manageable.
A growing body of academic evidence supports this approach. Expressive writing has now been linked to improved physical and mental health, with studies identifying enhanced recovery after traumatic experiences and improved sleeping patterns by participants who undertook this technique.
The question remains, how does writing actually help?
Expressive writing works because it enables us to actively think about and express our emotions. Narrating and organising experiences can give additional meaning to traumatic or stressful events.
Grammar and spelling are irrelevant, the process encourages us to be free to write in whatever style feels most authentic and natural. You do not get graded on what you write. Opening up about a story in a private way, through writing, can also allow us to open up about the story and talk to others, though the process itself is not about sharing with others.
You might think you have no time to write. This is where you are mistaken. You can and should find time for yourself, regardless if it is for exercise, meditation or reflection through writing. If you do not have 20 minutes, start small with 5 minutes once or twice a day and gradually increase the time.
As you write, you try to make sense of the world around you and your inner world. You try to understand what you feel, thus create a stronger connection with yourself. Knowing yourself is a key component in maintaining relationships with others.
Even expressively writing about others can make it feel like they are with you at that moment. That is why writing about something negative can make you feel sad for an hour or two. Imagine watching a sad movie, you feel connected to the protagonist or develop this connection with an antagonist. Nevertheless, after the movie ends you feel sadder, and perhaps wiser.
With expressive writing you are writing for yourself, no one else. It helps you deal with whatever thoughts or feelings you might have.
Researchers at the University of Nottingham are currently looking into effects of expressive writing on traumatic and stressful experiences within the local communities. If you would like to know more or would like to take part contact Andrea Kocurkova at email@example.com.
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No changes were made to either images. Featured image courtesy of Pedro Ribeiro Simões. Image license found here.
Article image courtesy of Andrea Kocurkova.