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If It's Heavy Write It Down - 5 Actual Reasons Why Writing is the Healer


We carry stuff. Loads and loads and loads of stuff. Some of it is ours. Most of it, is not. Though the fact remains, the human condition is – and always has been - fraught with burden, and it might appear that we’re on a galactic mission to eradicate it permanently from our lives.


In today's post-pandemic world, where our burdensome days have culminated in more and more ‘common’ stress and anxiety disorders, finding effective ways to lay down our burdens and enhance our mental well-being is teetering on the edge of obsession. As a species, we’ve grown accustomed to ‘fixing ourselves’ and a lot of our time is spent hellbent on finding the ‘right’ kind of therapy to accelerate our healing, to bring about our lightness. So who shows up? The usual suspects: Cue yoga and cross-fit and therapy on Tuesdays and hot stone massages and reiki and Body Talk and breathwork, the Rasul chambers, salt baths in Tahiti and, even, micro-dosing - for the more curious burden detonator.


While the ‘help-list’ mentioned adds its cushion of support to the mind, body and soul (we know, because we’ve tried them all at Room 206), there is one truly powerful mode of healing – a time capsule of light, and hope and joy if you will – that is often overlooked: the unsinkable, unwavering, practice of writing.


Having found its place back in the ancient scriptures as a means of storytelling and traditional communication, writing has more often been perceived as – well – just writing. A craft reserved for masters of the pen, for authors and judges, lawyers and playwrights; but lo and behold who knew this old-school ritual could contain and release enough impetus in its quill, to cut through the clutter and open up neural pathways to assist (and accelerate) the journey toward forgiveness, surrender, acceptance and grace. We knew (at 206!). And also, Mental Health America knew, since 20% of their top 31-Tips to boost Wellness is dedicated to writing modalities.


Psychologists are calling this form of pen-to-page healing ‘expressive writing’. Beyond its creative expression, it is found that writing has a profound impact on critical thinking, memory muscle and mental wellness: writing promotes clarity, reduces stress, and in recent discoveries, ultimately aids and supports the healing process of PTSD.

When it comes to narrative expression (writing down your story) - writing one's narrative unfolds as a transformative experience, expanding the room for individuals to make sense of their experiences, and find meaning in the struggle. Specifically nurtured in writing groups or writing workshops, where personal narrative techniques are explored, writers quickly gain a sense of control over their lives through this process, whilst unpacking a coherent understanding of their past, present, and future. And you thought the Memoir you bought from Exclusive Books was just a great story in a storybook – so not!


“Write what hurts” – said Ernest Hemingway. And he was right. There have been significant findings among scholars and medical experts that lead us back to the impact of storytelling on stress reduction, and trauma healing. According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, stress is a significant health concern amongst young working adults, and in the US alone a staggering 50% of young adults between the ages of 18-24 are struggling to navigate their stress triggers, with increased reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, as at February 2023. This undoubtedly sounds the alarm for more accessible alternatives to improving wellness; alternatives that work effectively and which do not require medication as its first port of call. Writing is unequivocally one of these alternatives - and a strong contender at that. Here’s why:

1. Writing is an Emotional Release


In a 1986 literary study by Pennebaker & Beall, students were tasked to write pen to page over four consecutive days, about the most traumatic or upsetting experiences of their lives. The progress reports showed a remarkable increase in mental processing of the events within a 4-month period, subsequently resulting in deeper self-awareness, clearer articulation, improved work performance and less trips to a healthcare professional. Since the ritualised act of writing helps to release the emotional burden associated with our day-to-day living, and our past experiences, there comes a sense of calm and relaxation within us, as we train our brains to unpack, instead of store emotions. This helps to chunk down overcharged stimuli and improves our ability to overcome feelings of overwhelm.


2. Writing is Vitamin W


Just as an effervescent would boost your immune system, writing (herein called Vitamin W) can do the same. Research conducted at the University of Auckland shows us that expressive writing can go insofar as to boost immune function, further underscoring the link between writing and physical well-being. Writing offers an outlet for processing and venting emotions, ultimately reducing the harmful effects of chronic stress on our bodies. This includes reduction of blood pressure, improved lung function (supported by Breathwork) as well as fewer post-traumatic intrusions and avoidance symptoms. With this in mind, it’s no wonder the NHC UK lists journaling and writing a letter to yourself as one of its top Ways to boost mental wellness (so you’ll add the ‘W’ to your mental medicine cabinet, yes!?)


3. Writing is a Problem Solver


Believe it or not, flexing your writing muscle could bag you that next seat up the career ladder. Ask Bill Gates. Gates describes writing at the end of his workday as a chance to re-evaluate his thoughts over 24 hours. He has done this for decades, to promote clarity and critical thinking. Similarly, the late indie author Joan Didion’s most shared quote still today asserts ‘’I write to discover what I am thinking.” Turns out Joan and Bill certainly knew their pen from their pain when we dig a little deeper, and throw in a bit of science, and we learn from chaps like Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) that writing is in fact ‘a thinking process’. When writing pen to page, one automatically begins to download thought which becomes a transfer – not a transcript – of knowledge. We transfer thoughts and feelings we’ve stored about life, work and daily experiences (even as far back as nursery school) and we place it on the page as a concise piece of the story, relevant to the present task at hand. In terms of problem-solving, Bereiter and Scardamalia divide this process into content problem space and rhetorical content space – a kind of mapping out of thought, before we put pen to page. This, we call Critical Thinking. And the gift: we solve problems, find solutions, connect the dots quicker – all the stuff our bosses expect us to do. Cue self-confidence. Cue a bigger pay grade.


4. Writing is a Memory Master


When you’re struggling to remember a day, a moment, a feeling from moons ago – pick up a pen, grab a notebook and witness the joy of these locked away gems, come rushing forward. Writing does this. More specifically, research proves that writing by hand correlates more strongly with improved memory than writing with an electronic or mechanical device. In a study by Mangen and Verlay (2014), it’s said that the sensory-motor activity of writing by hand, sends feedback to the brain that supports the recall of experiences or facts. Similarly, taking notes by hand not only improves information recall, but also conceptual ability. In the process of recall, used as a consistent tool in journaling, or morning pages, writing will help keep our minds sharp with age, improving memory and enhancing our connections with subject material at a neurological level.


5. Writing is a Love Drug

We write when we’re in love, and we write when we are out of love – and in between lies the literary addiction. No matter the life circumstance that precedes pen to page, or fingers to keys, writing down our feelings and sentiments – in rhyme or prose - promotes an endorphin release, that signals to our brains that ‘we are safe’, ‘we are in control’ and ‘we are worthy’. The act of writing creatively spurs us towards making a deeper connection with ourselves and our story. And when we muster up the courage to read our narrative out aloud, and hear ourselves in proclamation of our truth, something incredible happens: the amygdala responds with an applause. In this, begins the quest for love for others and for self, which in turn aids our forgiveness patterns, which in turn improves our will to show up as better, more inspired beings. Writing, it’s an addiction, of the kindest kind. Paired with a few good pieces of dark chocolate (according to Mental Health America), you’ll be flying the love flag way higher than you ever thought possible.


Conclusion:


From the poets to the scientists; from the hurt to the hopeful – it’s being proved time and time again that Writing is a healer, beyond its ability to communicate where words fail. Writing comes to us as the freest way to love ourselves, again – and find ourselves again.

“Write what hurts, and watch it heal,” – we say. When the space is set, and perhaps a candle is lit, and the world has hushed outside – writing will heal you. It will allow you to get real, to confess, to unravel and to be truly vulnerable. Writing gives us the courage to look at ourselves with gentle honesty, to witness our awesome and our nasty, and to find acceptance of both. Writing is the hall pass we give to ourselves, to do or say or share the unthinkable…and to find, that inside all of its ‘craziness’, there sits a magnificent discovery: YOU. Beautiful, brilliant, loveable YOU. And there it is, friends: the unbearable lightness of being (also a great book, by the way!)


For writing workshops that genuinely support your wellbeing and creative mastery – connect here.

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Thabang Khatide
Thabang Khatide
Nov 21, 2023

I have always downplayed the power of writing, this article has proven to me why I should never find myself doing so any longer.


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