Recently I was unpacking boxes as I continue to settle in from moving from Florida back to the Tulsa, Oklahoma area to start my private practice, Legacy Counseling Service. If you’re wondering why in the world I moved from sunny Tampa to Tulsa, I will simply tell you that living out the legacy I want to leave to this world is important to me. It’s one of the things I help people focus on when they work with me. So, I took the advice I give to my clients about following through on a priority and made the move!
Now, going back to what I found in those boxes. As I was unpacking I found some journals I had written in during my teen years…crazy that I still have those, huh? I hadn’t thought much about my teen years in quite some time and certainly didn’t remember specific things I thought about, or what mattered to me back then. Reading that writing was like reading the movie script of my teenage years. Full of angst, broken hearts, and confusion – the typical mental health stuff that many teenagers go through. And later I read about how I found strength, confidence, determination, and compassion for myself and others. I was blown away by the various emotions I had written about and how some of them stuck around for a while, while others developed out of necessity to cope better, and others emerged as I matured in age. Now, I’m not saying my writing was amazing, all I’m saying is that if I didn’t have those journals and my writing, I wouldn’t have really realized how I had changed over time, and how my thoughts and emotions changed. I realized how important writing was for my mental health when I was a teenager.
How does writing help with mental health?
- Writing moves thoughts and feelings from the mind to the paper so you can make space in your head for other thoughts and feeling
- Writing moves thoughts and feelings from your mind to the paper so you can organize thoughts and feelings better
- Writing helps you identify unhelpful thoughts you are having (in the mental health world these are called “cognitive distortions” or “dysfunctional thoughts”).
- Writing helps you see patterns in your thoughts that keep you stuck. In other words, how are your thoughts connected with your feelings, with your behaviors, and with situations? For example, “I notice that I tend to “mind read” and believe that everyone thinks I’m stupid when I’m with a group of people I don’t know really well.”
- Writing helps you realize that thoughts and feelings change. Sometimes they change because of things we do specifically, or sometimes it’s because we move into a different season of life. It’s important to recognize that our thoughts and feelings are temporary. They may come back regularly, but if you really pay attention to your thoughts and feelings you’ll begin to see that there are moments when you aren’t feeling anxiety or depression. Your mental health disposition is not a place you live, although it might be a place you frequently go back to many throughout the day or a few times a week. You might even notice you hang out there for hours at a time, but rarely do people hang out there 24/7 7 days/week.
How do I write for my mental health?
There are a lot of ways that writing will benefit your mental health. Some people enjoy writing in a diary, journal, or blog. Some people write in the “notes” section of their electronic device. Some people share their writing with an accountability partner or group, while others keep their writing private. You will need to experiment with writing and find what works best for you and your mental health. Here’s a brief video about journaling and a few ideas below::
Unstructured and Planned:
In this type of writing you free flow write, which means you write whatever comes to your mind without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or the logic of what you are writing. However, you usually have a set time of day in which you write. Some people like to write for their mental health in the morning while others like to do it mid-day to capture situations and thoughts/feelings that might be stressful. Others like to write at the end of the day to allow their minds to rest and prepare for sleep. It can be helpful to set a timer if you get anxious about time.
Unstructured and unplanned:
You keep a notepad in your car or bag, or you open the notes section on your electronic device, and randomly jot notes down about a particular situation and what you thought and felt. You write whenever the urge hits you for however long you feel the need to write. You rely on the inner sense of “completion” to tell you that you are done writing for that particular writing session.
Structured and planned:
This type of writing can be really helpful if you have a hard time knowing what to write about or have difficulty allowing yourself the time to write for your mental health. With structured writing you have an outline or format that you use to organize your writing and you might have a particular topic to write about for that day. This topic might come from your therapist, or if might come from things you’ve noticed throughout the day that got to you. An example of a simple structure is to write about just one word that comes to mind. For example, you might notice a feeling of fear and so you allow yourself to really think about what this feeling means for you (where you feel it in your body, what other thoughts or images come up for you when you think about fear, etc.). Another idea in regard to studying the Bible is to write about scriptural reading using the SOAP method. S stands for Scripture (write down the scripture),O stands for Observation (what do you observe about the scripture…key people, key themes, key problems, etc.), A stands for Application (how can you apply this scripture to you and your life), and P stands for Prayer (write out a prayer). You can see an example of how to do structured and planned writing for worry in one of my earlier blog posts about worry). If you do this type of writing, again, it’s helpful to set a specific time of day and a timer for the writing session.
Structured and Unplanned:
Again you use an outline or format for writing for your mental health, but you just write wherever and whenever the urge hits you and for as long as you feel you need it.
If you are in therapy for your mental health, then writing can be a highly effective tool for you and your therapist to use to more quickly identify your stuck points and values and to work through those to help you decrease anxiety and depression symptoms. If you aren’t in therapy and are working on your mental health on your own, then I encourage you to re-read what you wrote every month or so. This will help you see which thoughts and feelings change, which coping skills are helpful to you, which thoughts and feelings are your stuck points (the same thoughts/feelings tend to stick around regardless of changes in situations, season of life, or your coping skills). The goal is for you begin to see themes in your thoughts and feelings and begin to experiment with coping strategies that will improve your mental health. Another benefit of writing for your mental health is that your anxiety and depression symptoms tend to ease up.
If you feel like you need help with any mental health issue, please check out my website at www.legacycounselingservice.com and call me if you think I would be a good fit for you. I help people in Broken Arrow and the surrounding Oklahoma communities. I’ve always found that when I write for my mental health it helps me, and I believe it can help you too!