Writing can be life-saving in a crisis
Writing can be useful for those who are experiencing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, grief, loss.
Writing can help give expression to our thoughts and feelings. It can also help us gain control over our greatest fears.
It can be a great escape from external events which we can't control but can control us (if we let them).
Left alone, our thoughts are often negative and full of 'what ifs'. Writing can help us see a silver lining in the blackest of clouds. When our mental health is a worry we may not have the resources to cope with what is going on. So, it can be helpful to jot down the most stressful events in our lives. Negative thoughts, when acknowledged, can begin to abate and become more manageable. By developing a form of self-talk through writing, we can find ourselves discovering inner resources and be motivated to spring into action.
Studies have shown that writing can help with our mental health and boost our immune system (much needed at this time of crisis).
In fact, jotting down 'stuff' has been found to improve memory, helps record important information from our day-to-day living, and reading our own written words aloud can provide an important reflective process for ourselves. I take the view that writing about anything is more beneficial than writing nothing, and we all have to start somewhere.
Committing to paper is not about how much or how little to write. We each write at our own pace. We can start with a few words. Or a few symbols.
It does not matter how well we write. What is important is that whatever we write is important to us and is understood by ourselves.
Research helps - so look for positive quotes, read about how other people have got through challenging times or reflect on how you have got through past crises.
Or, try writing this:
- The thing(s) I am most worried about is/are...
- I have trouble sleeping when...
- I am at my happiest when...
Focus on when you are happy and feeling positive and aim to shift your thinking (and subsequently your feelings and behaviours) to more life-affirming thoughts. Identify the things you are worrying about which you can change rather than those you can't. Then focus on those which you can.
Write a gratitude list every day; keep a book of uplifting mantras (a favourite of mine).
Treat writing as you would a 'good friend'
It can be helpful to regard writing as a good friend - it has our back. It will not let us down. It neither judges nor criticises. It just accepts us for who we are. We need to write as if we are writing something no one else will see (other than perhaps a savvy friend, mentor or therapist if we need support, encouragement and feedback). In that way, writing can free us from our own self-imposed limitations. It can unleash a creative side which can be beneficial for our own well-being.
Writing can feel very empowering as it uses a part of the brain which is focused on the now. Being present is a great place to be.
Also, if we share our written thoughts online via a blog we could be helping many others who are seeking ways to express how they feel in a safe yet fulfilling way. By helping others we help ourselves, and in my view, there is very little which can come close to how good this feels. Win-win.
How to do it
When it comes to writing for therapy, it's important to use a format which is both suitable and comfortable - a notebook with pen/pencil, online journal or a blog - all useful tools. It helps if your chosen format is something you access on a regular basis - that way it becomes part of your day-to-day routine.
Evidence shows that if we set a goal to write something every day eventually this develops into a good habit. It becomes a place where we can offload our worries and concerns in a way which is unique to ourselves. It is a private activity; we can share if we so choose.
Ask yourself a couple of questions:
Why do I want to write? What do I think it will help?
Then follow up with some action planning:
- Set a goal to write something every day.
- Identify how much you intend to write.
- How confident, on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) do you think you will achieve this?
This needs to be realistic and achievable, so start small as this avoids big setbacks and a lack of motivation may creep in. As a general rule, anything under seven suggests you will not succeed in your actions, so adjust accordingly.
- What do I want to write about?
- Start writing about it.
- When you stop, review it.
- Reflect on it (taking deep breaths and focus).
- Keep writing.
- Keep re-reading.
How about getting a little bit more visual?
Get hold of a photo and write about it.
What do you feel when you see this photo? What would you like to say to the people in this photo?
Write it down!
Writing and keeping a journal can get us through the darkest of times. It can be a sustainable way of reflecting on ourselves.
Memories are not reliable, but writing our thoughts and feelings down provide an instant memoir which is an excellent way to monitor our own progress.
For some, writing can help in the struggle for survival. Yes, it can be as life-saving as that!
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