In this post, I want to focus on how to use writing to release stress and anxiety. I explore the role that writing plays in supporting our mental health by enabling us to articulate, understand and release our thoughts & emotions onto paper.
I have just read an insightful book by Louise DaSalvo entitled Writing As A Way of Healing. In it she discusses how to use writing as a restorative tool. It’s a brilliant read as she not only shares how she used writing to help heal childhood trauma but how many famous authors use writing to release stress.
This is one of the quotes I saved from the book:
”It is not what you write or what you produce as you write that is important. It is what happens to you while you are writing that is important. It is who you become while you are writing that is important.Louise DeSalvo in Writing As A Way of Healing
One of the key points she makes, backed up by scientific research, is that what’s important when writing to heal is that we “write in a way that links detailed descriptions of what happened with feelings – then and now – about what happened.”
She also makes it clear throughout the book that if you are hoping to use writing to release stress or as a tool to heal, you need to have a good support network or even seek the support of a therapist. I want to echo that sensible piece of advice.
I have been using various writing practices for many years. Some I use on a daily basis, others more punctually.
The Morning Pages are one of the pivotal tools used in the 12-week creative program The Artist’s Way developed by Julia Cameron. They are so iconic and widespread they even have their own hashtag #morningpages.
They involve falling out of bed onto the page, where you write three pages of longhand writing. You are not meant to re-read them or even keep them. You write them to unburden – then you start your day. She explains it so poetically in one of her blog posts:
”It is a paradox of my experience that Morning Pages both take time and give time. It is as though by setting our inner movie onto the page, we are freed up to act in our lives.Julia Cameron in her blog
I would describe the exercise as a conversation with myself. There is no censorship. Any of the Bridgets can control the pen. The whinger, the dreamer, the indignant or hurt one and sometimes the practical, pragmatic, proactive Bridget lays out plans!
I generally write my Morning Pages sitting outside and I sometimes switch the third page of writing to a quick sketch and some scratched words in my sketchbook.
Stream of consciousness
I use this exercise when something is troubling me. When I’ve been hurt. When I’m hurting and I can’t fathom why. Or when I feel stuck in life.
I set a timer for 10 minutes, I open a new Word document and I type without consciously thinking about what I’m writing. There is no self-editing, no correcting typing errors, you just let your thoughts and feelings take you deeper into your mind.
I’ve heard this exercise referred to as ‘doing sprints’ and that is an apt description. As your fingers sprint across the keyboard, you eventually find your underlying thought processes being revealed on the screen. You generally get to the ‘why’ behind your uneasiness.
I’ve realised that by articulating my thoughts and feelings I can reach some level of understanding – and that is what brings me release.
Try it – it’s truly enlightening to take a wander through your own mind.
Where is this parking space and what do you park there?
I use a notebook and I use it to park ideas. Some of the ideas are decidedly wild – often dreamt up on walks along the beach – others are great but need to move out of my head onto the paper so I can get on with my work. I tend to mind-map them, with the central idea in the middle. I think drawing out ideas – seeing them visually on the paper – helps us to clarify them.
When I decided to set up my house here in Norfolk as a retreat centre to help people manage their stress, I needed to focus on the renovation work but my mind kept racing away with retreat program ideas. One morning I sat down and let the ideas scatter across a page. Phew – now they were safe and I was free to tackle the long list of jobs.
When I look back at this page, I realise I can see the crux of my business with the five pillars of Mind, Body, Breath, Food & Nature drawn out.
It’s also fun to wander through your ‘car park’ and find all the mad ideas that never made it to market. And to rediscover ones that you did go on to develop.
Writing to release stress & anxiety
There are many other ways of writing to release stress and anxiety, such as gratitude journals, daily journals, bullet journals – we each need to find the way that suits our life and schedule.
Please make sure that you have people you can talk to if you feel upset by revisiting some of the emotional or physical wounds in your writing sessions.
And finally, write about the joys in your life. Write about why you feel happy. This is a great way to release stress and allows you to focus on the positive aspects in your life – and it is those aspects you will draw on when times are tough.