Writing is part of who I am. I have kept diaries for as long as I can remember. It all started under a duvet, with a pen, a piece of paper and a torch. I must have been about 7 years old – although I think my mum said at the age of two, I’d sit and scribble, and when she asked me what I was doing I’d reply saying: ‘I write’.
I am fuelled by a need to put pen to paper. Throughout my childhood, I spent hours in my room, scribbling away mundane thoughts in my diary, writing stories, poems, plays or designing my own little magazines. It is one of my favourite pastimes. Give me a day to myself and I’d happily spend it writing.
Oscar Wilde wrote “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train”
I am never far away from a notepad and pen. There are loads by my bed, one in my handbag, another in the car. Stacks of notebooks fill my cupboard. Some leather-bound or have highly-detailed and artistic covers. Others are simple spiral bound jotter-style notepads.
My husband finds it amusing just how much I write. I’m an avid note-taker. I need that pen-to-paper connection to bring order to my thoughts and emotions. It’s not just for those dear-diary moments either. I write when I need to get my head around a new project or when I’m coming up with new ideas for clients.
If I struggle writing a blog post, article or piece or content, I ditch the laptop and write it using a pen and paper instead.
Writing has always been my friend, confidant and counsellor. It is my creative and cathartic outlet, helping me to reflect on my day, manage my emotions and generate new ideas. Yet I have never considered the health benefits of tracking your deep and inner thoughts and emotions.
It was only when I started cognitive behavioural therapy that I started to value the healing power of writing and how it can be harnessed to give you strength and empowerment when you feel at your lowest point.
Writing to Heal
Although it seems as though there’s a trend for journaling right now, it is a tradition that dates back to 10th century Japan. Since then, people have used expressive writing as a method for transformation and discovery.
Amazingly, there is increasing evidence that journaling has a positive impact on not only your mental health but your physical health too.
According to the University of Texas at Austin, psychologist and researcher Dr James Pennebaker, writing not only helps reduce anxiety and depression, it also strengthens immune cells called T-lymphocytes. Additional research found that writing can help decrease symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Incredibly there’s even research suggesting that writing can mentally and physically help cancer patients.
Researchers at the University of Arizona found that keeping a journal after a divorce helped people make sense of the experience emotionally and also helped lower their heart rate and higher heart rate variability.
Writing Through Anxiety
I have always suffered from intense and debilitating anxiety and panic attacks.
At my worst, I suffered frightening episodes of depersonalisation when I thought I was losing my mind and drifting away from the real world. In those moments, I found that simply picking up a pen and writing exactly how I was feeling, or not feeling, would gently pull me back.
I still use writing as a tool to control my panic and irrational fears in a really methodical way. I write exactly how I’m feeling in that moment and challenge my belief about why I am experiencing that particular symptom. For example, if I experience a sudden pain in my head, I would panic and think that something very serious was wrong. This would then set off a major panic attack resulting in me feeling like I was going to faint, pass out or die. To stop the panic, I’d write about what I was feeling and an argument for and against the reason for that pain.
I discovered that by recording my physical feelings and corresponding thoughts and challenging them, would almost immediately stop the panic attack.
Research has shown that if you write down your thoughts, your brain doesn’t focus on them as much. This is believed to be because the mind knows that if a thought is in a permanent place then it doesn’t have to think about it as much.
Psychologist Dr Jane McCartney said in The Times that she recommends keeping a diary to all her clients.
She said: “Writing something down stops things from going around and around in our heads. This puts things in perspective, it stops you from obsessing and can help us make sense of our jumble of thoughts and feelings. It’s particularly useful for people who have problems sleeping. If you wake at 3am worrying about problems, just get them out on the page.”
She added that you don’t have to keep a proper diary for it to be beneficial “You can doodle, do mind maps or lists. It doesn’t have to be formal.”
6 Reasons to Start Journaling
- Helps you feel calmer – writing down what is bothering you can help neutralise and let go of whatever is bothering you. There’s no need to hold back as it’s only you who will ever see it.
- Increases creativity – Let your inner muse take over. Try out new ideas without fear of judgement. Free write and see where your thoughts take you.
- Track patterns – Doctors often advise that you track your thoughts or physical symptoms to see where there might be a trigger or see where a pattern might be emerging. This can enable them to offer the right sort of help and make the right changes depending on the problem.
- Improves memory – Keeping a diary or a journal helps improve your memory and comprehension. Just the act of writing orders our thoughts and boosts cognition.
- Use the Right Side To Solve Problems – The left side of our brain is the analytical side which helps solve problems, but sometimes it lets us down. By tapping into the right side of the brain by writing and being creative, you can come up with a creative solution.
- Be more positive – Write down 10 things each day that have made you feel happy. Eventually, your mind will start to notice all the positive things because it has been trained to put them in the journal. The result? A more positive you!
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