Writing for Relief: Exercises For Emotional Health


Self Talk / Saturday, March 31st, 2018

by Victoria Miller and Christine Hennebury

We don’t think that the writerly brain has more mental health issues than any other time of brain.

However, combining a writerly imagination with writerly habits like spending a lot of time alone and a lot of time in our own heads can create a breeding ground for some negative and self-defeating thoughts and behaviors.

If those thoughts are recurring or if they regularly disrupt your life, please seek some professional help.

You do NOT have to endure those thoughts alone.

If, however, those thoughts just pop up from time to time, you may want to use your writing skills to help you manage them. Just about any type of writing can help us to feel better about our internal and external worlds, and give us the ability to cope with daily frustrations. However, there are a few types of writing that are especially useful for coping with life circumstances, you can check them out below:

Note: You don’t have to KEEP any of this writing. If it causes you pain, if it might be difficult for you if someone else saw it, or, if you need to be rid of it for any reason, please go ahead and flush it, burn it, or tear it to shreds.

 

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Journaling

It may seem obvious, but journaling is an excellent way to get our frustrations out of our heads and into a place where we can deal with them. Something about the process of getting everything on paper helps us to gain some perspective. Once it is on paper (or screen)it is a little easier to avoid further rumination and feel a bit better.

If you are struggling with some issues (or with some people) perhaps journaling might be a good place to start. You can just start writing or you can ask yourself a question like ‘What is bothering me today?’ and answer it in your journal.

Alternatively, you can talk it out by using  the voice dictation or memo features on your phone or on Google docs. (In Google docs it’s called ‘voice typing’ and it’s located under ‘Tools’.)

 

Lists

You can also help clear out your brain by composing a number of lists. These lists can be practical or fanciful, as long as they feel useful to you.

Make a list of ways you like to relax, things you have accomplished, things that make you smile, situations you should avoid, or, ways that people get on your nerves. Once you have the list(s) written out, you can make some decisions about how to use the information.

 

Letters

Sometimes it helps to write letters to yourself or to others to help you past a difficult spot. Don’t make any plans to send them, this isn’t about how to communicate with others, this is about clarifying things for yourself.

If you choose to write to someone whose behaviour is bothering you, don’t worry about trying to be fair or taking a balanced view of the situation – they are never going to see this. Just go ahead and get it all out on paper or screen. You can reread if you choose, pulling out any useful actions that you see, but as soon as you are done, destroy the letter in the most permanent way possible.

If you choose to write to yourself, there’s catch. You have to write an encouraging, supportive letter. You should explain to yourself that everything will get better, that you have had other successes, and that, as the saying goes, you have a 100% success rate with getting through bad times. Speak to yourself as an honest and supportive friend would. It’s okay to acknowledge that you might want to do things differently in the future, but you don’t want to spend any time beating yourself up about your current circumstances. Self-kindness is the only way forward!

 

Side paper

If you have a lot of trouble with intrusive thoughts when you are trying to work, you might want to keep a ‘side paper’.

A side paper is a separate sheet of paper put to one side of where you are working and its purpose is to catch intrusive thoughts. Whenever you are interrupted by a thought (whether it is negative, critical, or distracting), jot it down on your side paper and tell your inner voice that you will return to that thought later.

This practice helps you to keep your focus and your positiivity and helps you see what thoughts interrupt you most often so you can deal with them in more effective ways.

 

‘Wrong’ hand

Wrong hand is a way tricking you into of giving yourself good advice. Here’s how you do it: Write a question for yourself with your dominant hand and then you answer it using your non-dominant hand.

There may be no scientific reason why this works (and it may not work for everyone) but it is just weird enough to help sometimes. For some reason, trying to write with your other hand helps you to bring out ideas that that don’t come out under normal circumstances.

 

Morning Pages

Julia Cameron’s morning pages are one of the most common recommendations for getting into a creative groove but they can also be useful for dealing with our emotions and challenges.

In ‘The Artists’ Way’ Cameron advises us that, first thing every morning, we should write three longhand pages about anything at all.’ These pages are not about producing anything in particular, they are about mental housekeeping – about clearing internal clutter. If you are clearing internal clutter, getting rid of intrusive and unhelpful thought patterns is a good place to start.

Morning pages have been very useful for many, many creative people but you may be resistant to the idea of writing first thing in the morning (or it may be impossible in your life right now). If that’s the case for you, you can modify the practice by free-writing for a certain period of time, by filling up a a certain amount of paper, or by coming back to those three pages throughout the day. (As Cameron herself suggests in her later book, The Artist’s Way for Parents which she co-wrote with her adult daughter.) The key is to do whichever one helps you to process your emotions in a way that serves you best.

Be As Kind To Yourself As You Can

No matter which of these techniques you use, we hope that you can use your writing skill to find some ease in your life. In difficult times, we can fall into the trap of thinking that what we need is to be tougher on ourselves, but we truly thrive when we find ways to be kinder to ourselves.

 

Find out more about the authors by clicking our names below:

Victoria Miller

Christine Hennebury

 

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