‘Name It to Tame It’ The Salubrious Effects of Expressive Writing
The hustle-bustle of normal life has given way to a slower pace. My appointment book is empty. Social interaction is masked and brief. Even reliable distractions have lost their luster. With so much time for introspection, unresolved issues and negative thoughts are adding to the stress load. Instead of soldiering on, I’m choosing to use this opportunity to do some expressive writing. A therapeutic technique, expressive writing helps people process thoughts and feelings associated with a traumatic or stressful life experience. Hello, pandemic.
Focusing on what’s bugging you and putting it into words is a good way to diffuse the emotional charge and lighten the load. As psychologist Dan Siegel put it: “Name it to tame it.” This has very tangible results. Research has shown that simply writing about what’s going on, even for a few minutes, decreases stress, improves mood, and cultivates a deeper understanding. A regular writing practice can even reduce physical pain and relieve depression. My friends who journal have told me that writing is a doorway to intuition. Why not take pen in hand and see what it does for you?
Even if you’ve never written anything personal in your life, you won’t have to search for material. A few quiet moments alone will give you plenty of writing material. The thoughts that pop up aren’t random and the tension isn’t really physical. Like old friends who’ve come to visit during the pandemic and just stayed on, the stuff that surfaces is all very familiar. Just take pen in hand and put your thoughts down on paper. It’s not a cliché to say that writing it out, gets it out. Use some of that extra time you have to do a little healing. Perhaps, you’ll find some inner wisdom along the way. Here’s how.
Trust the Process
Write about what’s happening in your body, what’s rumbling around in your head, a recent dream, a comment that rankled. Keep it personal, use feeling words, be honest, and let the writing take the lead. Trust the process. This isn’t a composition for publication; this is your inner self finding expression. Some prompts that’ve helped me get started are:
– “If my stomach (shoulders, neck, back) could talk, it would tell me…”
– “Being on a vaccine wait-list makes me feel…”
– “The endless monotony brings up a lot of…”
With a linear progression, it’s easy to see how thoughts and feelings that used to be churning around inside are now outside. From this perspective, take a look at what came up and the words you chose. Let your rational, cognitive mind weigh in. Here are some ways my writing took it to the next step:
– “My anxious stomach reflects the unsettled nature of cancelled plans. Setting open-ended expectations will help it calm down.”
– “The frustration of feeling out of control is mitigated when I’ve done everything on my end to set things up.”
– “A list of all the ways I can use this time will lift the oppression of boredom.”
To wrap up your expressive writing process, pause again to reflect. Add insight and wisdom. Once you name it and tame it, you’re out of the weeds. Now, you can see a bigger, broader picture. Let your writing drift philosophically for a bit and add something you’re looking forward to. Some people prefer writing in a formal journal that they can reflect on later. Others view their writing as cathartic and dispose their crumpled pages in a ceremonial gesture. Regardless of where you end up, getting the words out of your body/mind helps you process your feelings and find perspective. You can feel the results.
Expressive writing is a viable, self-healing strategy. Science has shown that putting feelings into words calms your nervous system and allows more access to your rational brain. In addition, writing in cursive slows you down and helps the words flow freely. This is because when you connect letters in a single stroke it engages both sides of the brain, thereby giving you access to thoughts, feelings, image, and memory. Putting it all down on paper breaks up the emotional logjam. Once moving, your right brain has the insight and your left brain has the clarity to uncover new solutions to nagging problems. As a regular practice, journaling is a good way to create order out of chaos and find your balance in uncertain times. In the words of Diana Raab, PhD,author of Writing for Bliss: “Writing about what’s on your mind and in your heart helps you make sense of your situation and results in a feeling of release and an increased sense of awareness.”
Finding ways to alleviate the discomfort and do something positive as the pandemic continues on may be the best strategy for staying healthy – in mind, body, and spirit. Do your own expressive writing research and then write about the results! If you’re intrigued and would like to take it further, check out one of these offerings:
Diana Raab teaches two writing courses on DailyOm – Write. Heal. Transform.: A Magical Memoir Writing Course, and Therapeutic Writing. Both include journal writing tips.
Janet Lucy, MA, offers eight- and 12-week women’s weekly writing circles via Zoom. Her next season begins the first week of April. She also offers an email group course for women titled “Divine Ink ~ Illuminating the Heroine’s Journey.” For more info, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Janet says: “Hearing one’s authentic inner voice, alone or witnessed in a circle, putting it in words on paper, is healing, inspiring, and transformative.”