Anyone who has gone to therapy or has had any emotions has probably been told about or advised to use a journal. Maybe you recount your day, maybe you list all the emotions you had, maybe you write poems and stories that express how you feel or your opinions. All of those things are awesome and you should keep doing them. But today I’m going to narrow it down and talk about expressive writing and how it can affect your mental health.
I’m going to tell you to write because I love writing. I can tell you how it makes me feel and how cathartic it is. But I know that isn’t enough, so I did a little research for you. And for myself, of course.
Expressive writing is when you take a figurative blade and figuratively slice your brain open and let your metaphorical blood thoughts soak the page.
That’s a little dark, but it’s what I see when I think about it.
There was a study done on patients, some who wrote and some who didn’t, and this is what they found.
Long Term Effects of Expressive Writing
- Improved Mood
- Fewer doctor and hospital visits
- Less time in the hospital
- Better Immune System
- Improved Working Memory
- More present at the work place
- Better sports performance
- After job loss, quicker at getting new jobs
- Higher grade point average in students
So maybe you want to improve your mental and physical health, and will try anything to do it. So, what the hey? Why not try this writing thing? But how to do it?
If you aren’t a writer, expressive writing could be easier for you. You don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, any of that. You write from your heart, your soul, your core. And it doesn’t even have to be words sometimes! If you run out of things to say you can just scribble or repeat yourself.
You write your feelings, your emotions, things important to you. Things that are bothering you, things that are keeping you together.
These words and these pages are from you for you. No need to hold back, just let everything go. Be intimate with yourself, dig deep.
Don’t Be Afraid To Switch It Up
If you feel like something you are writing about is going to push you to a level you can’t return from, change the subject. Don’t drive yourself into a downward spiral. Remember you can write about positive things that are important to you, too.
Immediate Effects of Expressive Writing
The study also stated the immediate effects of expressive writing. And it can be rough. You’re going places you have hidden away, you’re making realizations and connecting dots that can blow you away. You are getting vulnerable with yourself, and the study showed that immediately after writing, patients felt an increase in their negative mood.
Don’t Reflect Instantly
Give yourself a bit before you dive back into what you wrote. You don’t need to reflect right away. Myself, I keep every single thing I write from napkins to notebooks. I read over things and compare it to who I am now as a person as well as a writer. But if you don’t want to keep it, just throw it away. Tear it up. Burn it. Do whatever you want because it is yours and you are in control of it.
Expressive Writing Helps Identify
Expressive writing helps you notice themes. It helps you reach those raw emotions that are caught in your gears from years of dealing with life throwing garbage at you. It’s easy to recognize when something is off or wrong, but pinpointing it is the tricky part.
A novice painter can look at a painting and tell that it is sub par. They might even have a few critiques.
But the expert.
Oh, the expert.
The expert can tell you every tiny mistake that was made, the smallest inconsistency in brush stroke to unimpressive color theory execution.
Do we want to be the novice painter? Or do we want to fully understand the beautiful masterpiece that is our mind? I choose the latter, personally. I know I’m insecure, but what about? Why? I know I’m angry but what makes me angry? Who? What did they do? Why can’t I drop it? Who has been helping me? What are things they have done for me that have made me feel good?
Answering these questions gives you a window into a solution to your negative feelings. They also give you perspective and appreciation of the good things in your life, which are easy to forget during times of major lows.
Expressive writing may not be for everyone, but it might be for you. Just take twenty minutes out of your day for a couple of days in a row. After a week come back to it and reflect. See how you feel in comparison. See the progress, the decline, the reoccurring words. It just might help you figure something out that has been bothering you for a long time. Then maybe, just maybe, you can start to fix it.