In the writing workshops I teach, I advocate that writing can save your life. Using my own life as a compass, I suggest that when navigating difficult waters, we all need something to turn to — whatever tempers our stress levels. For some people, it might be exercise; for others it might be talk therapy. But for writers like myself, it’s about cracking open the journal or turning on my computer to create a story. The truth is, all my books began from a place of pain and the bliss came through the writing and publishing process. It has been said that miracles happen at the border where pain meets joy.
When we give voice to our feelings not only do we honor them, but through writing we are able to make sense of what we feel. This is especially clear when we use techniques such as free writing or stream-of-consciousness writing, which is writing without lifting the pen off the page and allowing thoughts to go where they want to go. We might begin by writing about how we had such a bad day at work and before we know it, we are writing about how our boss reminds us of a disgruntled sibling who we don’t get along with. Making connections between our present and past experiences can offer clues on how to move forward and find bliss. In doing so, we open ourselves up to life’s wonders.
Often when we feel sad, we look to external factors to understand our emotions, but if we tap into our feelings through writing, we learn that the external world might be a trigger to an old event that elicited sadness. Through writing, we can get to the core of our emotions and remain healthy — emotionally, psychosocially and physically.
According to WebMD, between 75 to 90 percent of physician visits are connected to stress-related ailments or complaints. By itself, stress may result in serious medical problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, musculoskeletal problems, skin conditions and psychiatric problems. These conditions are a result of the body’s response to a stress reaction.
Writing can bring awareness to our emotions in a way that allows us to move forward through difficult times. Bringing awareness to our emotions involves being present or mindful about them. Being mindful is especially important during the writing process. In preparing to write, you might want to make some emotional shifts to bring yourself into the right frame of mind.
Steve Sisgold, who advocates bodily adjustment to decrease stress, in his Psychology Today post, “De-Stress on Demand,” offers some poignant tips. As you sit down to write, you might want to try these as a way to ground yourself in the moment. For example, he suggests shifting your attention and removing yourself from external stressors or situations, slowing down your breathing, being aware of your breath, and changing your body’s position. For example, if your shoulders rise to your ears when you are under stress, then relax them. Imagine a calming wave and consider a positive action toward change. The positive action I propose is writing down your feelings.
Here’s how to begin:
- Set aside 15–20 minutes where you will not be disturbed
- Find a journal and pen that resonates with you and makes you feel good. Lately, I have been using fountain pens. They tend to ground me in the moment as the tip moves smoothly across the page
- Consider a centering ritual like lighting a candle, stretching, yoga, having a cup of tea or coffee or whatever works for you
- Date your journal entry
- Begin by writing, “Right now I feel….” Let your thoughts go wherever they may. In other words, “Let it rip.”
What to remember about writing towards bliss:
- Start with a slight smile on your face
- Let your mind go and allow your pen to flow
- Try to write from your heart and not your head
- Avoid thinking about having a beginning, middle or end in your writing
- Make writing a habit
- If you have difficulty beginning, try writing a letter to someone. Sometimes writing to an audience allows the words to flow. Important: You don’t have to mail it
- Pick a word that keeps popping in your mind and write about it
To read more of my articles, please visit The Empowerment Diary on Psychology Today.