Let the words flow
One of my favourite pastimes is reading. Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated by the fact that words on a page can transport me out of myself and off to a far-away place. I love to write too. Lock me away with a notebook and pen, a book and a cup of coffee and I’m content. Just as well really, as at the time of writing this we are all in lockdown. This period of a slower pace of life has allowed me time to reflect on my love of words and how it has developed from an enjoyment of reading, to recognising how writing can help to explore and improve mental wellbeing.
Our busy lives can fill our minds and overwhelm our thoughts resulting in what many describe as a ‘mind fog’. Writing can free our thought processes resulting in greater clarity and an enhanced ability to make decisions.
There are many ways in which writing can be used to enhance mental health, these are just a few:
- Journaling: This isn’t simply a diary of life events but the thoughts and feelings that accompany them. If finding the right words is difficult for you, try a picture. This can be something cut out of a magazine that reflects how you feel or something you draw yourself.
- Free-writing: Free-writing is a form of writing that ignores such constraints as spelling and syntax. Set some time aside - five minutes will do if you’ve not tried it before - and just write. Forget about spelling, grammar, punctuation, just write. Write whatever comes into your head. Words, sentences - it doesn’t matter. If those first words won’t come, try writing about your senses. What can you smell, see, hear, touch and taste?
- Brainstorming: Trying to plan a project? Perhaps the project is you and your mental wellbeing. Write the name of your project in the centre of a large plain piece of paper or perhaps a drawing or picture of something that represents your project. Surround the centre piece with whatever words and ideas come into your head. Let your inner child out to play by using an assortment of coloured felt tip pens and funny doodles. Place the completed brainstorm where you can see it and perhaps more ideas will come later so that it evolves over time.
- Stories: You could write a short story. It might be describing an event that has occurred in your life exploring some of the feelings and emotions that you were unable to express at the time. Or you could write something fictional. Make it up - the more fantastical the better; it gives the creative side of your brain space to stretch and grow.
- Songs and poems: Perhaps you enjoy the songs and poems of others and would like to have a go yourself. There is no need to fear the judgement of others. It doesn’t have to rhyme or sound eloquent, it’s just for you.
- Letters not sent: Writing letters to people without the intention of sending them can be a great way of expressing words unsaid. You could write to a lost loved one to tell them how you feel about their absence and what you are doing with your life. If someone has caused you pain, write to them about how they made you feel and the hurt they have caused. Writing letters that you do not intend to send can be a way of achieving closure. You could keep the letters or tear them up after completion and toss them into the fire. Do whatever feels right for you.
The mental health benefits of writing
Writing can be a cathartic experience. Letting words flow uncensored in whatever form you chose allows the brain access to more of the unconscious processes and less of the cognitive thinking. Allowing your mind to go where it wants without control and restriction will provide you with a safe outlet for your feelings and emotions.
Reflecting on your writing can help you to notice patterns and connections which will contribute towards the development of personal insights. This form of reflection can also provide a way to monitor your own progress through life’s challenges and celebrations.
Remember that whatever you write, you are writing for yourself so you can be free. Free to express pain, joy, frustration, anger. Whatever you are holding on to on the inside, allow it out on to the page and explore what happens.