Write On: The Power Of Putting Pen To Paper
For many the blank page instills fear, if not outright panic—all that white space and nothing to say. But those who put pen to paper, giving their internal thoughts an external point of view while expunging stress, reap an emotional and physical reboot stemming from uncensored expression. Whether thoughts take shape in free-flowing prose, a blog, a journal or a book, writing is a re-centering exercise with restorative powers.
WRITING FOR WELLNESS
If recording your innermost thoughts seems too maudlin in its intent, think about the relief finishing something on your to-do list gives you, and consider the physical payoff. “Emotions are felt somatically (in the body) and have biological manifestations,” explains Leslie Andrus-Hacia, M.F.T., a clinical psychiatric counselor with Dignity Health Medical Foundation’s Rancho Cordova Children’s Center. Cheeks flush when embarrassed, the heart races when angered, the head throbs when tense, and the stomach aches when nervous. “We often call it being ‘stressed out.’”
All of you with stress raise your hands. If anxiety relating to tension is universal, then writing is not a quick fix for some but a remedy for all, joining other modes of healthy stress management such as exercise or meditating. “Writing is a brain-based porthole leading to a balanced and calm state of being,” Andrus-Hacia explains. “Through writing, both right-and left-brain hemispheres communicate, synthesizing information that ultimately results in greater mental coherence.”
As such, language is a powerful means to clarity. “The use of language through journaling is a path for making sense of, rather than being flooded and overwhelmed by, experience,” Andrus-Hacia continues. “When stressed out, we are mentally and physically in a disorganized state. Writing assists us in naming experience. Through the process of attaching language to experience, we envision that [the latter] is literally integrated through the creation of new neural pathways within the brain. A body of fascinating research and theory on neurobiology and integration explores these theories in depth.”
Physically, this is particularly promising news. “Because we hold emotions and trauma in our bodies, releasing the fear, anger, and pain through writing supports our immune system and helps our mood,” adds Licensed Clinical Social Worker Sally B. Watkins, in private practice in Folsom and Lincoln. Beyond these benefits is better quality sleep—writing, especially before bedtime, helps unburden the mind of emotion and anxiety that causes troublesome slumber.
Long-term, writing releases toxic feelings connected to previously unexpressed issues. “Even day-to-day problems can take on a new perspective or find resolution when we write about them,” notes Watkins, who, in addition to authoring the book Change Your Mindset Not Your Man: Learn to Love What’s Right Instead of Trying to Fix What’s Wrong, has kept a journal for 25 years. “Often sitting down with paper and pen can have similar benefits to confiding in a trusted therapist—and it’s free. With practice, it’s likely your higher or wiser self may become activated and the solutions or direction you come up with may surprise you.”
If new to writing, don’t give performance standards—grammar, spelling, etc.—an audience. Rather, lead with observation and/or vulnerability. Write to clean house internally, anchor your emotional life and record your thoughts. Resist the urge to let preconceived notions tag along.
Like anything else, carving out space to write is essential. Make time, not excuses; everyone can, and should, find five minutes in the benefit of themselves. Set aside a block of uninterrupted time to jot down whatever is on your mind without judgment. If nothing jumps to the fore, copy down a few inspirational quotes or the details of the day to get a flow going, then respond. Draw pictures and incorporate images to up the creativity and fun quotients. And, by all means, stay open to frustration but focus on gratitude. The idea, expresses Andrus-Hacia, is to move from self-criticism to self-inquiry.
Watkins adds, “Our busy lives make us externally directed with jobs, family and everything connected…A healthy person, however, needs an ‘observing ego’ who can step aside and look at herself and her life and see if she is on track with her important dreams and values. A journal is the perfect way to become introspective, and start to form and strengthen our internal guidance. Having a rich inner life is something that writing helps create and maintain.” •
THE ART OF A HANDWRITTEN NOTE
Email, tweets and texts are all parts of today’s insta-culture. But the joy of a handwritten note has no equal. Here, four reasons to link to ink.
- It’s kind. Life is about relationships. Cultivate deeper connection with those you cherish by giving them the most valuable thing of all: your time.
- It feels good. Nothing replaces the feeling of surprise when opening the mailbox to find a letter scented with Grandma’s perfume. A handwritten note makes you forget all about those bills.
- It’s practice. The only reason to use “R U” in your correspondence is if you’re texting directions to Toys“R”Us. Penning handwritten missives keeps your grammar in check so that you don’t sneak in abbreviations where they don’t belong.
- It’s special. Instant messaging makes the rare written word even more significant to those on the receiving end.