So we find ourselves still in a pandemic (ffs) and likely stressed out over our never-ending to do list.
If I asked you how much relaxing you’ve done this week, what would you say?
Probably zero, let’s be honest!
So you may be surprised to find that expressive writing or journaling, aka writing down your thoughts on paper, is used as a relaxation tool?
Not only that. Expressive writing can be effective against various mental illnesses.
The benefits of it include reduced stress and anxiety, better focus and enhanced life satisfaction.
It’s a safe space to let yourself go with no one to judge or criticise. It’s where your deepest thoughts are expressed in privacy.
That blank page is an open invite to share what’s going on for you and for you to de-stress from daily life.
Expressive writing in a nutshell
What expressive writing does is put us (visually) in touch with ourselves. We write down our thoughts, whatever they may be, and as soon as we’ve done so, the weight lifts.
A stressful event becomes that much more manageable when we see it on paper.
Negative thoughts become that bit easier to comprehend. It’s like someone’s taken a pile of bricks off our shoulders when we create a new journal entry.
Journaling in itself isn’t that complicated. What’s hard is facing up to what’s going on in your head. This takes tremendous guts.
And I want to say this with honesty and transparency, that we’re all battling something. It’s called being human.
Why is expressive writing so good for me?
Now, if you’re wondering why writing down your thoughts is so beneficial for mental health and also for your physical health (yes really!) it’s all about the parts of the brain firing at any given time.
So much of our days are taken up by using the left side of the brain, aka the analytical, brooding, thinking side of the brain.
What journaling does is put us in touch with the right side of the brain, which is our creative, imaginative, free flow side.
When we’re anxious, stressed, overthinking or ruminating, we’re using up a lot of the left side of the brain, and the free spirit right side doesn’t get much action.
That’s where the magic of journaling comes in. It’s a great way to give your mind that much needed creative pause.
The first thing to know is there’s no set rules to doing it. It’s not about the pretty notebook, the topic, or the number of words even.
It’s about writing down what’s happening for you right now.
It can be daunting for someone who’s never done it, because It’s like having a one-on-one relationship with yourself, and that can bring up a range of emotions and fears.
I speak from experience that many a writing session has left me in tears, but it’s also been one of the best ways to overcome traumatic events from my past.
But there’s always relief whenever something comes out, whatever that ‘something’ is.
Expressive writing entries always gets ‘something’ out. It is astonishing.
Negative emotions can become positive outcomes simply by spending 15 minutes writing to yourself about how you feel.
The thing is, we let our minds take over our lives, often without being aware of it.
When we journal, we face our thoughts and get honest with ourselves in the process. By doing so, we find the relief we crave.
Writing requires us to be upfront and honest. No one else needs to ever read what you’ve written, as it’s only for your eyes, but just having the freedom to do so is beneficial.
And there’s no wrong way to do it! There’s only your way.
What happens when we write?
Often through expressive writing, we come to terms with the fact that our thoughts aren’t real life, that they’re likely a story playing on repeat in our heads like an old broken CD.
It helps get things into perspective, and focus on enjoying the present moment. Plus boosts the immune system can you believe!
Researchers from University of Texas found journaling to improve the immune systems in people with underlying health conditions. There’s so many different ways journaling can have a positive impact on your life.
Some people find it easier to write with a structure called ‘guided journaling’ or ‘guided expressive writing’ or by developing a routine out of it. This is useful if you’ve never written your thoughts down before, or want motivation to start. Others prefer free flow.
I’ve been teaching expressive writing as part of wellbeing coaching for almost two years now, and most of my clients rave about it.
Saying it transformed their worst nightmares into manageable, logical thoughts, and taken the pressure off in moments where it gets too much.
The setbacks with it are that it requires patience with yourself, and commitment, which many of us simply won’t stick to. You usually need to try it more than once to feel any positive impact.
Morning & evening journaling
Morning pages are a particular favourite of mine. Writing first thing sets you up for a wonderful day ahead, where you can set intentions and goals for yourself.
For mums this precious alone time is sacred, it really is.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a wonderful experience to take yourself through first thing, over consecutive days and weeks.
Journaling in the morning is a healthy way to gain perspective on where you’re at, on what you need to do and on what you can do to help yourself in the process.
It can become a nice daily habit if you let it.
Equally, journaling at the end of the day is the perfect way of getting over a hard time or a negative experience.
Simply write down what happened in whatever way the words flow for you.
Try journaling now! Grab a pen and paper. Answer these questions:
How am I feeling right now?
What happened today?
What am I proud of myself for?
Who made me smile today?
What’s one thing I’d love to accomplish this week?
I hope this article helps you start an expressive writing practise. Happy journaling!
References: Matt Evans, Wellness: How journaling can boost your immune system and mental health, 2020, accessed 1.12.21, https://www.fitandwell.com/news/wellness-how-journaling-can-boost-your-immune-system-and-mental-health