One of the most powerful ways to express oneself involves taking pen to paper or fingers to keyboard as emotions spill out. For people seeking mental health treatment, journaling their thoughts is often a lifeline.
I was spending time with a client not too long ago, and I felt myself holding back tears as she took a dive into unchartered waters. She had pushed these terrifying feelings back so far but she decided to take a leap of faith with me. We sat together as she read me what she had written. To me, it felt like she was sharing someone else’s story, yet we both knew she was letting her demons loose. Personally, I felt grateful that she was willing to be so vulnerable with me. Writing allows us to be vulnerable and expose our inner selves. When she finished reading, it was as if a weight had been immediately lifted from her and what was left was hope.
Personally, writing has kept me sane amidst the loss of my husband, parents, and other loved ones; personal illness; financial hardships; and changes with my job. I have found a lot of relief through journaling, and I even have journals from my college years (1977-1981) that I like to read through. I can’t believe some of the stuff I had written down, and sometimes I even think, “You still believe some of that stuff?”
A few years back Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. held a workshop called Writing Down the Light. The goal behind the workshop was to guide participants in taking their life story and the beliefs they once held regarding how life “should be” and altering them to produce a more rewarding result. Once I finished the exercises she recommended, I uncovered different ways to look at supporting others and the way they supported me. Since the workshop, I am continuously editing my viewpoint.
Do you want to take a stab at writing but aren’t really sure how/where to start? These writing exercises will help you expand your horizons and alter your brain functioning:
- Journaling: Spend a little bit of time each day to write down your daily thoughts and remarks—it can be like a purge to your system. Most of us hold in our thoughts and feelings to be sure we don’t hurt others. Your journal is your safe space to get real and raw knowing no one else will read it.
- Full Sensory Writing: Use language that describes your experiences through your five senses: smell, taste, touch, sound and sight. Color with your creative juices.
- Stream of Consciousness Writing: Ask yourself a question, such as, “What steps can I take to resolve conflict with my roommate?” Close your eyes, take a deep breath and begin writing or typing your answer. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Leave the mistakes and just write (or type). Let your mind go and allow the words flow naturally and when you feel as if you’ve found your answer, stop. Read aloud what you wrote down. Allowing yourself to hear your own voice saying the words, anchors them to you. It allows the words to feel real and honest. It allows your mind to identify them as your own.
- Pre-Plan Your Outcome: Ruth Anne Wood who is a writer, speaker, coach and entrepreneur, created a modality called Scripting for Success. This style of writing can be written in third person and in past tense, as if the event has already occurred. An example of this style of writing could be for someone who wants to start a new business, and they are writing a newspaper headline. The first part could read, “Local entrepreneur opens doors to her new window business,” and then continue to share the details such as, “Customers show up daily to purchase her products and tell others about her company. By the end of the fiscal year, she has netted $100,000.” Ruth says, that those who have utilized this style of writing have seen their scenarios play out in real life. Clearing the emotional blocks and melting the mental resistance away allows you to accomplish your goals.
- An Attitude of Gratitude: Take time each day to record at least three things you are grateful for. If you have more than three, write them down! The more the better! This gives you the ability to see the good things in life, and to remove focus from the troubling things in life. It also sets the stage for calling in more of what you want.
- Tell Me a Story: Describe an incident in your life that felt troubling. You can embellish it as little or as much as you want! Be as dramatic as you wish. The next step is to change the language, so it has a positive outcome. Be mindful of the feelings each one evokes.