Express yourself

When you’ve had a frustrating day, it’s very easy to ignore any positive aspects you would rather forget. Whether you’re going through a difficult experience or just trying to make sense of daily challenges, using writing as a form of self-therapy may well be the greatest gift you can give yourself.

Our minds process myriad thoughts every day, and telling stories about our experiences to loved ones and friends is how we can help to make sense of our lives.

Or so it used to be. Modern life keeps us all busier than ever before. People are more preoccupied with what’s going on in their own lives, and conversations and communications can easily become misconstrued and strained – or just never happen. Sometimes, having a private space where you can offload what’s on your mind is just what’s needed.

Expressive writing as therapy is a tried and tested method for coping with and understanding personal crises, anxieties and stressful events.

Expressive writing as therapy is a tried and tested method for coping with and understanding personal crises, anxieties and stressful events, and shown to help people restore their psychological wellbeing.

In a nutshell, expressive writing is personal and emotional writing where form and other conventions such as grammar, spelling or writing ability go out of the window. It is about simply expressing what is on your mind and helps you to process thoughts and feelings. Expressive writing is not so much about what happened, instead the focus is on how you feel about what happened or what is happening.

What are the benefits of expressive writing?

Writing can lead to a reduction in stress, improved sleep, improved relationships and improved concentration and performance at work. Research has also shown that expressive writing can improve psychological wellbeing, including easing symptoms of anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
It’s even been used in helping support those with serious conditions. Recent research has shown that expressive writing was a very positive intervention for those who had faced and overcome terminal conditions. There were long-term physical and psychological health benefits for those who wrote about their thoughts and feelings throughout diagnosis and treatment – it helps give a sense of direction and control in the face of an extremely difficult experience.

Of course, it’s not all about dealing with life’s’ hardest circumstances. Anyone can benefit from trying out expressive writing as it’s a very personal and intimate way for you to address and reflect on your own life’s challenges, big or small, and help put them into context.

How do I get started?

If you want to give it a try, your expressive writing journey should go at your own pace. All you need to get started is an urge to express yourself. You can use a notepad and pen or tap your thoughts into a laptop or iPad. Here are a few tips to get your expressive writing journey underway:

  • Find a time and place where you are comfortable and won’t be disturbed – this could be anywhere from your bedroom to your kitchen table or even a quick escape to the bottom of your garden.
  • Write about something that’s personal and important to you, this can be something that’s happened or something that’s going to happen that you’re a little worried about. Try to focus on how you feel.
  • Reflect on your words and ask yourself if anything surprising or unexpected has cropped up in your writing. What new insights have you gained?
  • You can do whatever you like with your writing once you have finished. You may want to hold onto what you have written to look back on in the coming weeks and months. On the other hand, you may feel you have processed your thoughts and feelings and would prefer to dispose of your words. This sounds odd, but can be a release; symbolising how those thoughts no longer have an impact on you.
  • Don’t worry about the style of your writing or the spelling and grammar, what’s important is getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper.
  • Don’t critique your writing or try to make sense of it, it’s okay to just get how you’re feeling out there.
  • It’s important to take expressive writing as slowly as you need to. Don’t write about a difficult or emotionally charged topic before you’re ready. If it feels even slightly uncomfortable, leave it for another day.

Of course, expressive writing is going to mean something different for everyone. Everyone has their own idea of what their writing ability is. The main thing is not to feel self-conscious about doing it. Just starting, getting the words out there can be a real release; it doesn’t have to be something that would win prizes – it just has to matter to you.

If by taking a moment at the end of a day, you can reflect and get the day’s triumphs and challenges into some kind of perspective; then this is truly a small victory, and the sort of self-training and exercise that can help equip you with a balanced approach to everything that life throws at you.