I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Stories, journaling, poetry, and, one of my favorites, expressive writing. The health benefits of expressive writing are numerous and supported by research. Various benefits include biological, psychological, emotional, and spiritual (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005; Pennebraker & Evans, 2014).
My personal experience with expressive writing has proven to provide all of the cited benefits. But most important for me is the spiritual benefits. I happen to be a person that spends a lot of time in my head. A deep thinker by nature, my mind is usually always contemplating something. As you might imagine, sometimes there is quite a traffic jam of thoughts up there. The Bible says that we should “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). Expressive writing allows me the ability to put some order to those thoughts, to put some distance between myself and the emotions, and to get clarity–to take my thoughts captive. Often, my experience allows me to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and discern God’s will for my actions or response to life.
Expressive writing can take many forms. Here are just a few that I have tried and enjoyed:
- Free-write whatever comes to mind for a set amount of time. Reread and search for themes or uncovered ideas or emotions. Be careful not to focus too intently on negative emotions or overanalyze them. This can create spirals of negativity.
- Create a story about your experience. Rewrite from different perspectives: first-person, third-person, and other-person.
- Write a letter to yourself. Make it a letter of compassion, empathy, or gratitude.
- Create a mind map of your thoughts. This is particularly effective when you have a racing mind because of stress or anxiety.
My advice is to explore different types of expressive writing. Your personality, writing style and ability, and preferences will all influence what feels best to you. Explore writing by hand or writing on a computer. I write both on paper and use the Penzu.com app for an online journal. When I do write on paper, I shred writing sessions that focus too closely on the negative about myself or others. Most often I find that upon reflecting, that negativity is an overdramatized reaction to not having as much control as I would like. No one is perfect!
I would love to hear about how you use writing for well-being. Please share in the comments!
Contributed by Liz Hunt
Baikie, K. A., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in psychiatric treatment, 11(5), 338-346.
Pennebraker, J.W. & Evans, J.F. (2014). Expressive Writing: Words that Heal. Enumclaw, WA: Idyl Arbor, Inc.