The Science Behind Writing As a Self-care Activity: Guest Post by Emma The Anxious Empath

Today’s post is by another mental health blogger, Emma Bell, who writes on The Anxious Empath. I am so excited about this as her blog is so inspirational and this post will not only benefit us as bloggers but also you, as she writes beautifully and her content is very useful to those who may also struggle with anxiety.
Emma blogs about mental health and her experience living with anxiety. She’s passionate about raising awareness of mental health issues and often uses humour as both a deflection and an educational strategy. To find out more about Emma and learn more about her work, read her blog, The Anxious Empath.
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.
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, writing as a form of expressive therapy can lead to a reduced need for talk therapy. Writing 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?

Here are some tips to help you commit to the experience:

  • Spend a few moments before your writing 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. 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 are 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!
Figuring out what to write can be half the battle, so use these 5 questions as prompts for your first couple of writing sessions:
  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?
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 on this topic and an additional 10 writing prompts, check out Emma’s original blog on The Anxious Empath.

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