Writing as a self-care activity for better mental health

Writing as a self-care activity for better mental health

Whether you have a mental health condition or not, you’ve probably heard the term ‘self-care’ used plenty of times before. While self-care shouldn’t replace medical or psychological treatment, self-care activities can be effective in helping to maintain health and wellbeing. There are lots of different forms of self-care activities, but one of the most time and cost-effective strategies is writing or journalling.

As someone who has lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember, I can personally vouch for the fact that writing can have a positive effect on mental health and general wellbeing.

But you don’t have to take my word for it! In this blog, discover the science behind writing as a self-care activity, how writing can improve your mental health, tips to guide you through the writing as self-care process and, as a bonus, some writing prompts to help get you started.

Writing as a self-care activity

What are the benefits of writing as a self-care activity?

There are many benefits of writing or journalling. It has been said that the act of writing enhances our creativity, our ability to empathise with others, our ability to resolve arguments and our ability to solve problems. This is because, “The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you” (Purcell, 2018).

The act of writing as a self-care allows you to step back from your emotions, thoughts, behaviour, and interaction with others, and reevaluate things. In this manner, the act of writing serves as a means of self-discovery and self-awareness. This is important because having a deeper understanding of yourself, your values, goals, strengths and weaknesses will help you make decisions and live your life in a way that is meaningful to you, which obviously will have an impact on your overall wellbeing and happiness.

What are the benefits of writing to mental health?

When it comes to mental health, writing has been proven to help reduce stress by providing an avenue for the release of negative emotions and the opportunity to cultivate gratitude and other more positive emotions. Psychological research to date has not determined the exact reason why writing as a self-care activity works, but it may have something to do with the fact that it allows people to transform their emotions into language, thereby better understanding them, which can be very powerful.
Writing as a form of therapeutic expression has been found to have comparable results with similar talk therapy activities, like speaking to a therapist or verbalising thoughts and feelings into a tape recorder. In some cases, journalling as a form of expressive therapy can lead to a reduced need for talk therapy. Journalling has also been linked to long-term physical health benefits including mood, immune function and blood pressure.
Sounds pretty good, right?
So, how do you get started?

How to use writing as a self-care activity to benefit mental health

The most important thing to remember when using writing as a self-care activity for mental health is to not put pressure on yourself. You don’t have to worry about formatting, correct spelling or grammar, and as with mindfulness meditation practice, try not to judge yourself for the thoughts that you have. There is no right or wrong  and nobody else is going to read what you write. You don’t even need to read what you write, if you don’t want. Just let go and write. write. Once you get the hang of it, it’s liberating.
Here are some additional tips to help you get started:
  • Spend a few moments before your journalling session to calm your mind, relax, ground and centre yourself. A mindfulness breathing exercise is perfect for this! 
  • If you’re someone who constantly feels the need to check the time, set a timer or alarm to go off after a certain amount of time, so your brain knows the activity has a deadline. This will allow you to remain focused on the act of writing until the allocated time is up.
  • Research indicates sessions longer than 15 minutes are most effective, but when you start out, it might also help to only allow 5 minutes or 10 minutes for this activity. As you continue to complete writing sessions, you can always extend this time and one day, you might not even need a timer!
  • If you focus best when listening to music, feel free to pop some tunes on!
  • Limit distractions. That means no social media, no phone calls, no looking at your mobile phone notifications.
  • Go old-school and use pen and paper rather than your phone or laptop. You’ll probably find that when you use your phone or computer you censor what you type, but putting pen to paper allows for a more constant flow of writing. When using digital devices, you’re also more likely to be distracted by pop-up notifications, so pen and paper is best.
  • If you write about a negative topic, a past experience that is painful or one that brings up negative thoughts and feelings, use the time at the end of your session to think about whether there’s a way to turn the experience around into something positive or to use it as an opportunity for growth.
  • If you find yourself constantly questioning the way you are completing this writing activity or start to feel stressed out by it, and you’ve given it a real shot (it can take time to adjust to and learn to love new habits), it might be the case that this isn’t the right self-care activity for you… and that’s ok! Try something else and you never know – in future you might decide you’d like to try writing again!

15 writing prompts to get you started

As someone who uses this self-care strategy, I know figuring out what to write can be half the battle. That’s why I’ve put together this list of 15 prompting questions to help you get started:
  1. If you could achieve anything in life, what would it be and why?
  2. What is something that scares you and why?
  3. What is one of the most difficult things you’ve experienced, and how did you overcome it?
  4. Who is your biggest supporter? Pretend you’re writing a letter to them and explain what their support means to you.
  5. What are five things that brought you happiness today?
  6. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  7. What does success mean to you?
  8. What do you love (or like, if you’re not feeling particularly self-confident) about yourself and why?
  9. How would you describe yourself to a stranger?
  10. What is something nobody knows about you? Why have you kept it a secret?
  11. What things can you do to look after yourself?
  12. What do you need to forgive yourself for?
  13. What are you proud of yourself for?
  14. What are you most grateful for?
  15. How do you add value to the world and the lives of those around you?

Want even more prompts? The Write it down let it go notebook is one of my favourites when it comes to writing away my fears, and it includes even more writing prompts than my list above! If you want to purchase your own copy, here’s the link.

Write it down let it go book

While there are many mental health benefits of writing as a self-care activity, remember that it shouldn’t replace other treatments or therapeutic practices you already use. If you find writing is making it easier to dwell on negative thoughts and emotions, and is actually having a negative effect on your mental wellbeing, it might be time to reach out to a professional for advice.

For more information about the benefits of opening up and talking about your mental health concerns, read this blog.

Disclaimer:  This post includes affiliate links. Purchase of any product or service recommended on this page may result in financial compensation, but rest assured! These are genuine recommendations of products and services I have personally tried and tested myself. More information about my affiliate disclosure policy can be found here


References

Purcell, M. (2018). The Health Benefits of Journaling. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 7, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/

Pennebaker, J.W. and Chung, C.K. Expressive writing: connections to physical and mental health”. The Oxford handbook of health psychology, Friedman, H.S. (2011) Oxford University Press https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=apBoAgAAQBAJ

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5 thoughts on “Writing as a self-care activity for better mental health

  1. I totally agree with you writing can have so many positive benefits on your mental health and can be very good at relieving stress. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post.

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