A pen and paper has always been my confidante of choice. Even as a teenager, writing down my unhappy, anxious or angry thoughts and feelings was something I did instinctively; either in letter form or scribbled on a random piece of paper. Once out, the painful words and unbearable emotions stopped having any power over me; usually instantly, but if not then, always later. And when the emotion was spent, I threw it away. Nobody told me to do this; writing was automatic and has always worked as a pressure valve in my life.
A few years ago I came across a newspaper article about happiness. The section which grabbed my interest described an experiment which involved 4 groups of volunteers writing a list of things every night.
Group A wrote at least five things for which they were grateful
Group B wrote at least five hassles in their lives
Group C wrote five things they were better at than others, and
Group D wrote five major events in their lives.
Volunteers were closely monitored for a variety of personal, mental, physical and emotional changes, and at the end of the experiment Groups B,C & D exhibited very few changes, while Group A showed evidence of increased well-being in all areas; they felt better about life, had greater levels of optimism, fewer physical symptoms, they helped others more and were more likely to achieve their goals. (Tal Ben-Shahaar, “Cheer Up. Here’s how…” The Guardian, December 29th 2007)
Writing down the good things about my life was a new concept for me, because my personal outpourings had only ever been of the blood letting kind, but I thought I would give it a go. As soon as I started, I realised that there were many things in my life I had to be grateful for and every time I thought about it, I was happier. I spent my days looking for things to write. Some days I wrote more than five. Other days I struggled to find a single original thing. But after a while I realised it didn’t matter; every day I was and still am grateful for the same things and new ones too.
From this was born my interest in the whole world of therapeutic writing and its power as a tool for personal awareness, development and improvement.
Writing about difficult, confusing and unwanted emotions is useful because when you write you have the opportunity to see thoughts and feelings as something outside of yourself; they become something tangible to be viewed objectively. Once you can see and feel things outside of yourself you can understand them better, adapt them and feed back positive, more beneficial thoughts and feelings. You get to manage your emotional states and because you decide how, you inevitably end up feeling empowered and consequently happier.
Writing about positive and beneficial emotions works in the same way, except that usually these emotions and thoughts are reinforced and strengthened by their tangibility. Give it a go now – write down five (or ten, or twenty…) things about your life which are good and see if you don’t end up feeling better because of it.
Writing things down is effective because words are very powerful; they are an outward expression of what you are thinking. It is your thoughts which create your emotions, and your emotions which determine (on an unconscious level) how you act or behave.
Think — Feel — Do
The words you use have a unique and personal resonance deep inside of yourself.
For example, take the word POWER. What does it mean to you? Does it have good associations or negative ones? Do you love to have power? Do you respect power? Do you fear power? Do you feel the need to rebel when confronted with power? It’s just a word, but as with all words (to a greater or lesser extent) it will have a dictionary meaning and a personal meaning you may not even be aware of.
By being aware of the emotional connections that words have, you have the choice to use them or not use them, or alter the way they make you feel. By paying attention to the words you use, you can literally change your life.
Writing can help you to
- organise and understand your thoughts
- identify and express emotions
- reduce stress and anxiety instantly
- think about what is important to you
- adapt and change your thoughts and emotions,
- create new positive thoughts and emotions
- raise self awareness and know the real you
- change your behaviour
- boost your self esteem
- fix goals firmly in your sights
- feel calmer, clearer and more relaxed
- and be creative
The beauty of writing is that you are accountable only to yourself and can do it at any time and any place to suit you. What’s more, it’s private, cheap and you can do it with the minimum of a pen and a piece of paper. It is like having a friend to talk to.
If you’d like to try some therapeutic writing exercises, please contact me through my website.
Wendy Storer has completed two novels for children, not completed several more, and is currently half way through another which she is sure will get finished. She is an ex primary teacher, ex hypnotherapist and ex lots of other things. She has a diploma in Creative Writing Therapy, two large black labradoodles and a soft spot for anyone who can make her laugh.