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Write your way to a happier, healthier mind and body

Could creative writing be the answer to your health and happiness? Try it today with our expert guide.

Kate Orson

The mind and body are inextricably linked. Mental wellbeing is well known to have an enormous impact on physical health and likewise, chronic pain and many other conditions certainly hold the potential to have a knock-on effect emotionally, too. Because of this, when we nurture our mind it results in better health. Partly from boosted levels of endocannabinoids (and other happy chemicals we naturally produce when given the chance!) and a decrease in stress hormone cortisol.

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Image by Darius Bashar

Think back to a time when you took a moment just to focus on our wellbeing. Maybe you were sitting down to read a book, enjoying a craft or simply socialising with friends. Any calming, mindful activity like these will certainly feel like they’re doing you good, but we don’t have to rely on personal experience to know that this is, in fact, very true. There is fairly extensive research to show that caring for your mind is hugely beneficial. But therapeutic creative writing takes this one step further.
One stand-out study conducted by psychologist James W. Pennebaker revealed that those who wrote about traumatic experiences in their lives were so positively affected in terms of physical health that they actually went to the doctor less in the following six months.

Other research studies have found that writing can boost your mood, and even reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

But how and why is writing so therapeutic?

Creative Writing – a mindful practice

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Image by Dollar Gill

Putting difficult thoughts down on a page can help clear them from your mind, giving you a space to vent in a healthy and productive manner before leaving that pain behind. It helps put emotions into words so that they become less intense and perhaps less invasive day-to-day. As the psychiatrist Daniel Siegal says, in writing we all have the ability to ‘name it to tame it.’  
Beyond dealing with past trauma and current stresses in your life, creative writing can also help you focus on your goals and figure out ways to create the path ahead you have always wanted and truly deserve. The writing itself is great, but how it can help you to change and grow as a person is even better.

Getting Started

You don’t have to be a great writer to reap the benefits of mindful writing. No-one is judging your skill as a wordsmith, so avoid judging yourself in that way too - think of it as a brain dump where you can say the deepest, craziest, most ridiculous things! This is not about the quality, but the process.

“We are all writers, just as we are all speakers.”

~Pat Schneider, writing teacher

- It can be helpful to set a timer for 10-15 minutes to create a safe container for the writing session. 

- Grab your notebook and begin writing down your thoughts. This is sometimes known as ‘free-writing’ or ‘stream of consciousness’ writing.

- Try to write down whatever you’re thinking without censoring yourself. Nobody is ever going to read this unless you choose to share it, so be honest and let it all out.
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  Image by Adolfo Félix

Be your own therapist

As you write you may find your mind naturally gravitates towards problems as if it’s a therapy session with your pen as the listener. Keep writing and listening. If you write for long enough solutions might suddenly pop into your head, or you can ask questions. For example, ‘’what should I do about x?’’ The mind is rarely silent and will often provide a solution or guidance for a problem if you take the time to ask the question and give space for an answer.

Make it a regular activity

Writing every day or a few times a week is ideal. Like any muscle in the body the brain works better when it’s exercised. Julia Cameron, author of the classic book about creativity ‘The Artist’s Way’ recommends doing three pages of long-hand free flow writing every morning. This can be a good time when your mind is still fuzzy with dreams, and the busyness of the day isn’t there to distract you. You could also keep your journal in a prominent place to remind yourself that it’s there for whenever you want to shift your mood.

Mindful writing exercises to try at home:
Writing The Present Moment

As you sit with your notebook and pen ground yourself in the present moment by describing everything you are experiencing with your five senses.
-What can you see out of the window? What can you hear nearby or in the distance? --What can you smell, taste or touch?

-Notice the way your body feels sinking into your chair. Are there any physical sensations, thoughts or feelings that you are drawn to in the present moment?
Write them all down.

Unsent Letters

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Image by Carolyn V

Is there someone in your life that you feel like you have unfinished business with? Perhaps someone from your past you have found it hard to forgive, or someone that you have a difficult relationship with in the present? Or perhaps a loved one who you have lost or can no longer communicate with?
Write a letter saying everything that you cannot, or should not say in real life. What would you like to say if you were completely free to say what you wanted without repercussions? Letting feelings go on the page can help real-life situations.

Recall Happy Memories

Research has shown that recalling happy memories can actually help you feel happier right now! Write down and describe some high points of your life, whether big or small. Include as many memories of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound as possible to make them really vivid. This can help you to reconnect with the feelings you experienced in those moments.

And finally....

One thing to bear in mind is that writing can open up strong feelings that you might have been distracting or avoiding. It is a solitary practise which can be tricky if feelings get overwhelming. Seek professional help from a GP or therapist if you find that the writing alone is not enough.

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