For Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, we're encouraging people across the UK and beyond to turn our focus inwards and take stock of our mental wellbeing.
As such, it feels like the opportune moment to highlight the powerful impact a regular writing practice can have on our mental health. Research shows that spending as little as fifteen minutes per day writing can lead to long-term improvements in mood; lowering depression and stress while boosting healthy emotions. So, what are 5 important ways writing can help?
1. Writing can bring us into the here and now
Just like paying attention to our breath, we can use writing in a mindful way: to connect with our senses, focus on the present moment, and get ourselves out of our heads and into the world around us. This can help move our nervous systems out of a high-stress mode into a more relaxed state, where everything from our digestion to our immune system can function more optimally.
TRY THIS The next time you find yourself feeling anxious or stressed, you might try out this simple writing exercise:
Spend 5-10 minutes creating a written ‘sensory map’ of the world around you. Engage as many of your senses as you can — what does the air feel like against your skin? What can you smell? What sounds filter through? By reflecting on your senses in this way, you’ll automatically hit pause on that mental chatter and give your nervous system the chance to return to a state of equilibrium.
2. Writing helps us make sense of our experiences
When we write about and reflect on our experiences, we can start to see patterns and new perspectives. Thoughts and feelings are by their nature often vague, and this can make them feel more intimidating and unmanageable than they really are; by putting them into words, we demystify the unknown and shrink things down to something tangible that we can then deal with and control. In fact, the simple act of naming a feeling or emotion has been shown to reduce its negative impact.
3. Writing focuses our attention on the positives
From gratitude lists and letters through to positive visualisations, we can use writing to immerse ourselves in things that help us feel good. And following the theory of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the more we use writing in this way, to focus on the positives, the easier it becomes to break out of those cyclic negative thought patterns that so often hold us captive.
To get yourself into a more positive mindset, you might like to explore our Positive Postcards activity, designed by WriteWell tutor Kate McBarron. Or, why not give our Positive Affirmation Generator a go?
4. Writing gives us a chance to play and be creative
Have you ever heard of the term ‘flow’? It refers to a state of effortless focus and absorption that happens when we allow ourselves to engage in a creative endeavour, without expectation or fear of failure (children enter this state of mind all the time, but in this case, we often call it play).
Flow is associated with many benefits to our health, including reduced anxiety levels, improvements in mood, and increased productivity and feelings of motivation. It’s clear that allowing ourselves to flow — to have fun, get distracted by purposeless tasks simply because we enjoy them — is pivotal to our well-being. Writing simply for the sake of it — to play with language, whisk yourself off to imaginary worlds, time-travel, dream up characters — gives us a much-needed chance to unplug and put our immediate worries to the side.
5. Writing connects us with others
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness, and it might not seem at first glance that writing is a very social activity. Yet we know that when people write about a past traumatic or negative event, they are more likely to then talk to other people about it.
As medical doctor and poet Jeremy Nobel explains, ‘People often can write what they find difficult to speak, and so they explore deeper truths. This process of expression through the written word can build trust and bonds with others in unthreatening ways, forging a path toward a more aware and connected life.’
Kate McBarron adds, ‘There’s something very validating and healing about sharing our words – our story, our experience of the world – and being heard by others. And when those other people offer their reflections in a kind and supportive way, it’s a chance to gain insights and see our experiences from other points of view.’
Whether we share our writing with others or write privately in a journal, that sub-conscious awareness of an audience taking in our words fosters a deep feeling of connection, and can help remind us that we aren’t alone in our experiences and difficulties.
If you’re interested in learning more about tuning into the power of writing and creativity for self-care, you can find lots of ideas and activities on the WriteWell platform, suitable for every time, budget and experience level. Learn more here.
Please note: writing for wellbeing or about personal experiences can sometimes bring up difficult emotions. It’s always good at the end of a prompt or writing session to take a few deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth to reset. Here’s a breathing bubble to follow from Calm.