Ernest Hemingway said writers should “Write clearly and clearly what hurts”. While Hemingway may not have known it at the time, research has now shown that writing about ‘what hurts’ can help. improve our mental health.
There are over 200 studies that show the positive effect of writing on mental health. But while the psychological benefits are consistent for many people, researchers don’t quite agree on why or how writing helps.
One theory suggests that bottling emotions can lead to psychological distress. It stands to reason, then, that writing can improve mental health, as it provides a safe, confidential, and free way to disclose emotions that were previously repressed.
However, recent studies have started to show how increased self-awareness, rather than just revealing emotions, could be the key to these improvements in mental health.
Essentially, self-awareness is being able to turn one’s attention inwardly toward oneself. By turning our attention inward, we can become more aware of our traits, behaviors, feelings, beliefs, values, and motivations.
Research suggests that becoming more self-aware can be beneficial in a number of ways. It can increase our confidence and encourage us to be more tolerant of others. This can lead to greater job satisfaction and push us to become more effective leaders. It can also help us exercise more self-control and make better decisions aligned with our long-term goals.
Self-awareness is a spectrum, and with practice we can all improve. Writing can be especially helpful in increasing self-awareness, as it can be practiced daily. Proofreading our writing can also give us a deeper insight into our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and beliefs.
Here are three types of writing that can improve your self-awareness and, as a result, your sanity:
Expressive writing is often used in therapeutic settings where people are asked to write down their thoughts and feelings related to a stressful life event. This type of writing is meant to help emotionally process something difficult.
Research shows that expressive writing can improve self-awareness, ultimately decreasing depressive symptoms, anxious thoughts, and perceived stress.
Reflective writing is used regularly in professional settings, often to help nurses, doctors, teachers, psychologists and social workers become more effective at their jobs. Reflective writing aims to give people a way to assess their beliefs and actions explicitly for learning and development.
Writing thoughtfully requires a person to ask questions and to be always open, curious and analytical. It can increase self-awareness by helping people learn from their experiences and interactions. It can improve professional and personal relationships as well as job performance, which are key indicators of good mental health.
You don’t have to suffer in silence if you have mental health issues. Here are some groups you can contact when you need help:
Samaritans: Call 116 123, 24 hours a day, or email [email protected], confidentially
Childline: Telephone 0800 1111. Calls are free and will not appear on your bill
PAPYRUS: A voluntary organization supporting suicidal adolescents and young adults. Phone 0800 068 4141
Depression Alliance: A charity for people with depression. No helpline but has helpful resources and links to other information on its website
Students Against Depression: A website for depressed, moody, or suicidal students. Click here to visit
Bullying UK: A website for children and adults affected by bullying. Click here
Campaign Against Miserable Life (CALM): for young men who feel miserable. Has a website here and a helpline: 0800 58 58 58
Poems, short stories, short stories, and novels are all considered forms of creative writing. Usually, creative writing uses the imagination as well as, or instead of, memory, and uses literary devices like imagery and metaphor to convey meaning.
Writing creatively offers a unique way to explore thoughts, feelings, ideas and beliefs. For example, you could write a science fiction novel that depicts your concerns about climate change or a children’s story that talks about your beliefs about friendship. You can even write a poem from an owl’s perspective to represent your insomnia.
Writing creatively about difficult experiences, like grieving, can also offer a way to communicate something to others that you find too complicated or difficult to say directly.
Creative writing encourages people to choose their words, metaphors, and images in a way that truly captures what they are trying to convey. This creative decision making can lead to increased self-awareness and self-esteem as well as improved mental health.
Write to know yourself
Self-awareness is a key part of good mental health, and writing is a great place to start.
Why not take the time to write down your feelings about a particularly stressful event that occurred during the pandemic? Or reflect on a difficult work situation from the past year and consider what you have learned from it?
If you’d prefer to do something more creative, try responding to this prompt by writing a poem or story:
Think about how your home reveals the moment we are in right now. Is your pantry full of flour? Do you have new items or pets in your home to avoid loneliness or boredom? What do you see from your window that reveals something about this historic moment?
Each of these writing prompts will give you the opportunity to reflect on the past year, ask yourself important questions, and make creative choices. Spending just 15 minutes doing this can give you the opportunity to become more self-aware, which could improve your mental health.
Christina Thatcher, Creative Writing Lecturer, Cardiff Metropolitan University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.