Did you like to write stories as a kid? Or maybe you kept a journal? Wondering if writing could be a way to help your mental health now you're all grown up?
Just like a diary or journal, expressive writing is a private place where you can write without inhibitions. You don't need to heed proper spelling, punctuation or grammar.
But unlike a diary, it’s not a place to record daily events just for the sake of having memories.
Instead, it’s your space to get all your thoughts and feelings out onto paper with complete honesty, be it niggling worries, self-conscious doubts, or fears for the future. In the most simple of terms, expressive writing is the process of putting your feelings into words.
When you write without self-judgement, editing, or censoring? It can not only feel incredibly liberating, but it can lead to some significant emotional insights, too.
Expressive writing can also improve your mood, reduce stress, and make you feel more positive.
A study that asked over 100 young people to either try expressive writing or just write about control subjects found that those who did the expressive style had lowered their anxiety levels. And that levels remained lower even three months later.
Expressive writing allows you to clear your mind of mental clutter, and make sense of all the messy thoughts, emotions, and experiences that didn’t make sense at the time.
In hard times, it may help you make sense of what’s going on. And in good times, it may allow you to identify areas where you can improve and move forward.
When we write out what's bothering us it can lower the stress chemicals in our body, like cortisone and adrenaline, which are hard on our immune systems.
An interesting study on patients with HIV infection had half of the group journalling about emotions, and the other half just about everyday topics. Those who did the expressive writing were found to have improved their white blood cell counts in comparison to the control group.
How often you choose to expressively write is entirely up to you. But you might be surprised to find out that it doesn't have to be a massive commitment to show real results.
A 2017 study found that 20 minutes was the optimum time to write expressively.
Remember, sometimes expressive writing might feel uncomfortable. It may dredge up emotions you’re unsure how to deal with. This can be a good thing. See if you can continue just that little bit more and reach a breakthrough. Of course if it really is too much, you can take a break and come back to it later.
Struggling to know what to write about? Some days the words might flow, other times you may feel stumped. When it comes to the latter, consider prompts such as:
Expressive writing is an experience for you alone. You aren’t going to be sharing your writing with anyone else. This is your space to express your emotions with total honesty.
With that in mind, don’t edit what you write. Jot down what comes to mind without filtering it or censoring what you really want to say. This is an opportunity to really express how you feel, so don’t hold back.
Feel too nervous to write what you think, on the off chance someone finds the pages by mistake? Then consider ripping up the pages when done. Some people find knowing that the pages will be destroyed frees them to truly unload what's holding them back.
Feel like your depression and anxiety is out of control? We offer therapy for all budgets and issues. Use our easy booking tool to find your perfect talk therapist now.
Victoria Stokes is a Belfast-based mental health and wellbeing writer who loves espresso martinis and the colour pink.