Do you enjoy writing? Many people love reading a good book, or an informative news article, but the process of recording their personal thoughts on paper may be untouched territory for them. On the other hand, if you’re like me you have an inner urge to keep your journal up to date – and yet the words don’t always flow easily. Looking back over some of my journal entries, I know what I was trying to express, but I’m sure not anyone else would!
No matter where you fall on the spectrum, the truth is that writing isn’t always a mere hobby; in fact, it can be a powerful form of therapy for those of us who are coping with stress, anxiety, and trauma. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the many benefits of writing therapy, and how you can get started with this wonderful technique.
The Benefits of Writing Therapy
Investing time in therapeutic writing may seem somewhat frivolous at first glance. However, there are several advantages in doing so, which include:
1. Writing by Hand Helps You to Slow Down
Writing with pen and paper may seem like an outdated activity in today’s hi-tech world. After all, why not just use the word processing program on your laptop, or type notes on your tablet?
In reality, though, writing down your thoughts by hand offers one key psychological benefit: it lets you slow down. Research indicates that the majority of us tend to engage in “technological multitasking” – e.g., checking our smartphones when we really should be focusing on another activity. Engaging in this practice over and over again can result in memory loss, a reduced IQ, and even emotional impairment.
When you focus on writing down your thoughts by hand, however, multitasking is no longer an issue. You have to concentrate when you write by hand, which means that you have to stay within the moment. In today’s fast-paced world, that in itself is a triumph for mental and emotional wellness.
2. Writing Down Your Thoughts is a Therapeutic Exercise
As humans, we are built with the need to express ourselves. In fact, the act of self-expression in and of itself can be a major catalyst for personal satisfaction and success. Sadly, it is often difficult to find someone willing to act as our sounding board – to listen as we open up about our fears, dreams, hopes and disappointments.
This is where therapeutic writing comes into the picture. The beauty of writing therapy is that you can express yourself at any time, without the immediate need for another person to validate your view. Writing down your thoughts can help you to understand yourself better, see things from a different perspective, and even brainstorm solutions to distressing problems.
3. Writing Therapy Helps You to Practice Mindfulness
It’s all too easy for us to constantly look ahead or behind – to worry about what the future holds, or ruminate on what has already happened in the past. Writing can help center us in the present. As we engage in therapeutic writing, we have the opportunity to explore our own consciousness, and examine ourselves in a “judgment-free zone.” We also can gain deeper inner peace by remaining mindful of the present.
4. The Science Behind the Benefits of Writing
Several studies have shown that writing about personal feelings, thoughts, and experiences is a highly effective form of therapy. This is evident in the findings of both physiological and psychological research.
For example, a researcher from the University of Texas in Austin found a correlation between journaling and a stronger immune system. In another study, two groups of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients were instructed to write for 20 minutes each day for three consecutive days – one group about the most stressful event of their life, and the other group about their day to day plans. The study found that the group of patients who wrote about the most stressful experience in their life showed marked improvement on subsequent clinical evaluations compared to the other group. Of course, other research has demonstrated the mental and emotional benefits of writing therapy as well.
How to Get Started with Therapeutic Writing
Time needed: 15 minutes
It may be difficult at first to record your thoughts on paper every day. After all, it takes some time for us to form even the best of habits! What can help you to get started? Here are some tips:
- Use the writing format that is most comfortable for you.
Some people prefer structure, as in organizing their thoughts into an outline before writing, or composing on ruled paper. Others are more comfortable with free-form writing, and simply jot down thoughts as they appear. Yet others like to express themselves by means of highly visual “mind-mapping” techniques. Whatever the case may be, choose a format that will help your thoughts to flow.
- Set a daily writing goal.
Decide how long you want to spend writing each day, whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour. Once you’ve determined an appropriate length of time, stick to that goal. If at all possible, try to set aside the same window of time each day for your writing – this will help you to maintain a consistent schedule.
- Decide what you want to write.
You may be at a point in life when you need to make a critical decision; or perhaps you are still working through the effects of something that happened to you in the past. Choose a subject to write about that feels authentic to you. If it’s too difficult to write about this subject in the 1st person, consider doing so from an outsider’s perspective, and writing in the 3rd person point of view.
- Write for yourself, not for others.
Never write as if someone else would read your entries – always write for yourself, and yourself alone. This perspective will help you to be honest with yourself as you navigate your thought process, emotions, and past (or planned) actions.
- Summarize what you write.
At the end of each entry, take some time to re-read your own words, and think about their underlying meaning. Then, summarize those thoughts in one or two sentences. This will allow you to encapsulate your thoughts for each entry in a “key takeaway.” Your key takeaway can provide a sense of closure to your writing session, and it may even yield a profound insight that you can put to work in the future.
See Writing Therapy In Action
While it’s true that writing may not come naturally to many of us, it can yield wonderful therapeutic benefits that far outweigh the amount of effort needed to form the habit. If you’d like to get a jump-start on this avenue of self-expression, and even connect with kindred spirits, write and submit your own personal letter to Imperfect Ink today.
Frequently Asked Questions
Writing therapy is a form of expressive therapy in which one writes about personal feelings, thoughts, and experiences in order to process them.
Writing a letter to someone you wish to express your innermost thoughts to, but are too afraid to confront in person, can be a very healing process. Imperfect Ink enables you to do just this!
Writing down your thoughts can help you to understand yourself better, see things from a different perspective, and even brainstorm solutions to distressing problems.
Imperfect Ink archives anonymous letters submitted around the world.