Writing for Mental Health
I still have those writings. I don’t go through them often. When I do, I sometimes I get lost. On the paper, I can see my thoughts spiraling and stalling and bumping up against each other.
I see how I would try to work my way out of a particular anxious situation, and how I would almost always think myself right back into it.
But I also saw the good days. The days when things were going well. I can see that even during those darkest of times, optimism could break through. Hope did dwell.
I didn’t write during those times for any reason but survival. My head was such a clouded, anxious place, and left to its own devices it would never leave the little corner I would think myself into. My thoughts would take over everything. I would be in a room with people, having conversations, partaking in life, and yet my mind was a million miles away. And if no one else was there to distract me, I was a million miles away. Sometimes the real world would almost cease to exist in my mind. Everything would darken and fade away as the only reality known to me was the confusion racking my brain.
And writing helped.
I started to realize that when I would write my thoughts down, I could sometimes write myself out of them. Stuck in my head, thoughts would just swirl and swirl and swirl. But when I would write, I would notice that more easily because I would see myself writing the same thing over and over again.
Something about writing in paragraphs made me want to move forward and say something new.
And sometimes a pretty thought would occur to me — one that would house hope and peace. In my mind, I would easily push it to the side, ignoring its relevance. But on the page, I would dwell on it a bit longer. Writing it down made it more real, and the beauty of it drew me back to it.
Before having kids, I was a writing professor for about ten years. I know most of the benefits of writing. But one thing they don’t teach you in English 101 is that it is amazingly good for mental health.
Perhaps I’m lucky in this regard because writing comes naturally to me. I write as freely as I breathe.
But you don’t have to be a writer or even like writing to reap the benefits. When writing for yourself, just let your thoughts out on the paper. Forget about grammar and spelling and punctuation. Write in paragraphs or write in one big long paragraph. Ramble. Write in fragments. Use one big, long run on if you want.
The freedom of writing is that you can do whatever you like. There’s no teacher there to grade you.
And some people really do have difficulty getting the words out. If this is you, some of the following might help:
1. Turn off the monitor or put a towel over it. When we can see our writing, we tend to critique it. If you can’t see it, then you get the benefits of the process without the stress of the self-critique.
2. Give yourself a set time and set a timer. Maybe start for five minutes or maybe even two if five seems to long. Length does not determine the winner. This is all for you.
3. Start writing whatever comes to you. Write about your favorite tv show or your cat or why you hate writing. Just start writing. Eventually you’ll get to the meat.
4. Change mediums. If writing by hand isn’t working, try a computer. Or vice versa.
5. Get comfortable. If writing makes you anxious, try turning on some music. If that’s too distracting, find a quiet place. Go wherever works best for you.
6. And if writing isn’t going so well, perhaps you could try a tape recorder and record your thoughts. It’s not the same, but I would imagine the benefits could be very similar.
In so many ways, writing is responsible for the progress I have made. I am a firm believer that it can help untangle knots.
Have you tried writing? If so, has it helped? I would love to hear your experiences.
Knapp, A. (2015). Writing for Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2017, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/anxiety-depression/2015/06/writing-for-mental-health/