Writing for Wellbeing
by Francesca Baker - Writer
Words matter. As much as we may tell children that it’s only sticks or stones that have power, the truth is that words are brimming with it. It’s why we love listening to stories so much. It’s the reason that companies pay millions to advertisers to craft the perfect copy. It’s why the word squelch makes us shudder but the sound of ‘I love you’ makes us tingle. Yes, words matter.
Words are hugely beneficial for our wellbeing, physically and emotionally.
When you feel low, do you naturally think to pick up a pen? Perhaps you should. Whilst we’re convinced of the therapeutic benefit of creativity, we often focus on the visual or participatory arts, rather than writing.
‘I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.’ said Anne Frank. If writing could help her get through some tough times, can it help you?
Research from Dr James Pennebaker demonstrates a link between expressive writing and physical changes. Over multiple studies he and his team have found that expressive writing in which the focus is on a particular trauma leads to faster wound healing, strengthening of the immune system, reduction in blood pressure levels, higher white blood cell count, lessening pain from arthritis and better sleep – the list is vast.
The repeated intentional act of writing a letter of gratitude has significant impact on a person’s feeling of happiness and contentment.
Steven M. Toepfer & Kathleen Walker wanted to look at writing where the focus was on something positive. In their study Letters of Gratitude: Improving Well-Being through Expressive Writing. They found that the repeated intentional act of writing a letter of gratitude had significant impact on a person’s feeling of happiness and contentment. Just three session of 10-15 minutes in which participants wrote one page was sufficient to usher in positive change.
A similar study in 2004 saw Burton and King look at the health benefits of writing about intensely positive experiences. Writing was found to correlate with a reduction in visits to the health centre and doctors.
It also has huge psychological value. Studies show that writing is associated with drops in depression. It’s estimated that about 40% of our happiness comes from the activities that we consciously decide to do each day. Whatever the content of the writing, even the act of doing so is therefore hugely powerful.
It’s a great way for us to deal with life’s challenges.
People can really explore different ways of thinking and expand their understanding. They can start to challenge their rigid ways of thinking and open up new possibilities. In my workshops I always encourage my participants to let down their guard and quiet the inner critic. Often people come and tell me how they can’t write. But you can’t write the wrong thing – you’re the writer, the person, and so your voice is important.
The words matter, but it’s what they do to us that really counts.
I’ve also seen a real sense of buoyancy as a result of the confidence that comes from having written something down on paper, and enjoyed the process. The feeling of wellbeing lasts long after you leave the page.
Here are a few exercises to get you started:
Pick a part of your body, and write about it. How does it feel to you? Can you use metaphors? What does it look like? If it was a song what would it be? Tune into it. Really use your senses to be aware. Feel your toes. Are they hot or cold? What does your clothing feel like on your body? Let the sensory input—not your thoughts—feed your writing. Observe the sensations and start to narrate in your mind what you notice. Work through each part of your body, recognizing that there might not be one overriding feeling. Get up and dance. Do the same. How has it changed? How does it feel to notice this?
Notice your feelings
Identify a color that you feel describes your present state of being
- Is it a bright yellow, a sad blue, or does blue mean bright skies to you, and openness?
- Now write down all the objects, sights, sounds, images and emotions that come to mind when you think of the color.
- Write about yourself as this color – I am a brightly colored daffodil; my laughter feels like lemony balm; when she hugs me it’s like sunshine on my skin; I’m dancing light on the trees.
At the end of the day write down the word GLAD. Reflect on something you are Grateful for, Learned, Accomplished and Delighted in.
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