Maintaining optimal (or at least acceptable!) mental health requires support and resources from a variety of areas. Exercise and diet support mental health; social connections support mental health; fulfilling work, creativity, and spirituality all support mental health. Sometimes therapy and medications need to be part of the support system as well.
But there’s one simple activity you can do to boost your mental health that doesn’t require sweat, vegetables, other people, or costly treatments. What can you do to improve both your brain power and your emotional stability? Write.
Writing & the Brain
When you write, you engage many parts of the brain. Writing requires parts of the brain that help with planning, memory, language production, understanding, metacognition, small motor tasks, and more. Writing helps you think. When you write about a topic, whether that be an event, a problem, or a feeling, you are better able to make sense of it, to “connect the dots” and see the topic from a larger perspective. Studies show that writing improves memory as well, especially when you write on paper.
Writing & the Emotions
Having a bad day? Can’t stop worrying about an upcoming task? Mulling over a relationship that feels stuck? So excited about your vacation that you can hardly sit still? Wondering what your life is for and what it all means?
Write it out. As noted in an article from Utah State University, writing about your thoughts and feelings can reduce anxiety and depression and foster healthy relationships. When we write, we process our emotions in a way that makes it easier to express them to other people. Also, by understanding our own motivations and feelings better, we come to have more empathy for others. We’re able to imagine situations from their perspective.
Writing & Mental Health
While writing can be therapeutic, it must be approached in a way that fosters a search for meaning and understanding. According to the APA (American Psychological Association), venting emotions on paper is not enough to offer any mental health benefits: “To tap writing’s healing power, people must use it to better understand and learn from their emotions.”
In fact, the APA notes, some psychologists are concerned that writing about trauma without any guidance or sense of purpose might just create more distress. One study on intensive journaling shows that “people who relive upsetting events without focusing on meaning report poorer health than those who derive meaning from the writing.” When you focus on finding meaning in your experiences, you become more aware of the positive aspects of those experiences.
Types of Writing
- Expressive writing – Multiple studies point to expressive writing as generating the most mental and physical health benefits. Expressive writing requires regular practice, at least 3-5 times a week for 10-20 minutes. It involves writing freely about your deepest emotions and thoughts, exploring how they affect you and your relationships and how they might be traced to childhood events or beliefs or to your current environment. If you work with a therapist, you can use your writing in your therapy sessions to help process the insight you gain.
- Letters – To help yourself work through relationships issues, it can be helpful to write letters to the person you’re having strong feelings about. We strongly recommend that you do NOT give these letters to the person. Just imagine them as an audience as you write. Explain what you’re feeling and why. Write about what you think needs to change and steps that might require. Even though you won’t give the letter to its recipient, writing it may help you figure out how to broach a conversation with them.
- Creative writing – Sometimes it’s easier to process our emotions and thoughts when we don’t write about them directly. In this case, you might find that you’re drawn to writing stories or poems or scenes that express a particular aspect of your feelings. When your feelings are especially raw or troubling, creative writing can provide a helpful distance and detachment.
Help for Mental Health at Eagle View
Writing can be an important aspect of self-care, but if you’re struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or any other diagnosis, more tools are required. At our facility in Bettendorf, IA, we provide assessment, diagnosis, and rapid stabilization of acute psychiatric issues. Our compassionate, nonjudgmental professionals will help you or your loved one find the path to well-being.