People have probably used writing as therapy for almost as long as the written word has existed. Somehow we just know that writing about our heartbreaks and joys makes us feel better. And psychology bears this out – writing about emotional upheavals can improve physical and mental health, and even help you sleep better (J.W. Pennebaker in Expressive Writing: Words That Heal, 2014).

Threads of Life’s resource manual for our Volunteer Family Guides offers exercises to help people cope with stress. Here’s what the manual suggests for “Writing as Therapy”:

JournalWriting, in any form, can provide a powerful catharsis. It brings up memories and rekindles feelings. Writing helps you revisit emotions that are important for healing. Express your feelings on paper.

There are many ways to use writing to help you deal with your loss. You can:

  • Keep a journal or diary
  • Write letters
  • Send emails to friends or
  • Write poems or stories.

Set aside a block of time each day to write your thoughts and feelings. It seems to be more effective if you write longhand rather than on a typewriter or computer. Don’t worry about the writing process while doing it. And forget about spelling, grammar, punctuation, being redundant or writing half-baked ideas, thoughts or feelings. The goal is not to write something that is good – or even something that will ever be read again – but to write simply for the sake of getting your thoughts and feelings out of your system.

Writing can and should include complaints, aggravations, frustrations and so on. Nothing is too trivial. You can complain about the barking dog next door. You can write about your dreams or sorrows. You can create a grocery list or goals. You can create a better life for yourself or work on your immediate needs. The only rule is that there are no rules. Let whatever is on your mind flow onto the paper. Unburden yourself of pain, sorrow, fears, regrets and so on.

This is a very powerful exercise! You will make several discoveries:

  • The process is enjoyable, and
  • Your thoughts will flow quickly, with the important ones pushing themselves to the surface with great force.

You might have to stop to cry, especially if you are currently in pain. Bringing the pain up, although unpleasant, is part of acknowledging your pain and working through it. You will look forward to your daily writing sessions.

How has keeping a diary or journal helped you cope with emotional or physical pain? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Susan Haldane

Susan Haldane manages marketing and communications for Threads of Life.
Her background is in journalism, public relations and health and safety.
Susan Haldane
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