“I CAN SHAKE OFF EVERYTHING AS I WRITE; MY SORROWS DISAPPEAR, MY COURAGE IS REBORN.”
~ ANNE FRANK ~
When I was 16, I was diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
My dad’s job saw us moving around a lot during my formative years and it finally took its toll on my mental health and wellbeing.
A huge part of my ongoing personal (and professional) therapy then, and even now to an extent, was finding constructive ways to communicate and put into words the whirling thoughts and emotions that I was struggling to make sense of.
It was through this process that I discovered the transformative power of writing and the therapeutic release it provides.
As an exercise in mindfulness, putting pen to paper creates an intimate environment to connect with your own internal monologue; there is no judgment, you can purge every nagging thought that comes to you and it’s entirely your choice whether you share those musings with anyone else or not.
According to a psychological study conducted in the early 2000s, regular therapeutic writing can help to find meaning in experience as well as creating a portal to view things from a new perspective and see the silver linings in even the most stressful situations or negative experiences.
Writing as therapy is also a very private, personal experience that you can access anytime, anywhere.
There are several ways to utilise the power of the pen; as it goes for most things, it’s about finding the approach and outcome that works best for you.
WRITING A LETTER (TO YOURSELF)
Personally, I have always found writing a letter to my past (or future) self a fantastic way to connect with my feelings; what I’ve learned, what I hope to achieve, what scares me, what I’m proud of, my hopes and dreams for the future etc.. It’s a great platform to celebrate positives in your life while also acknowledging the things you’re uncertain about or struggling with. By writing down fears, anxieties or stressors, I find it’s easier to face them and figure out useful strategies to alleviate the impact they are having on your mental and emotional health.
If you feel like waxing lyrical and blending your thoughts into creative juice, writing poems (or even short prose) can be particularly therapeutic and meaningful. Penning poetry was how I chose to approach and embrace writing as therapy in the first few years after my GAD diagnosis; I still have half a dozen notebooks filled to the brim with my teenage reveries. For me, poetry was the most vulnerable expression of feelings but I found it could be communicated in a way that felt more “shareable”, so I was more comfortable opening myself up to others and letting them read what I’d written (if I wanted them to).
This is the rawest form of writing as therapy – free association writing centres around jotting down thoughts as they enter your head. There doesn’t have to be any structure to the narrative as the purpose of the exercise is to harness a stream of consciousness that can help to identify underlying anxieties, traumatic experiences or concerns as they present. Free association writing is commonly used as a tool in psychoanalytic therapy to help patients learn more about what they are thinking or feeling and why, without the influence of personal or social bias. It is recommended that this approach is done under the guidance or direction of a certified psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor.
During particularly challenging times like these, it is common to feel worried, anxious or alone.
Don’t forget that we are all in this together and the power of writing can never be underestimated; words have the undeniable capacity to change mindset and mentality, and not only your own but others, too.
As the American writer and novelist, Flannery O’Connor once said: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
I hope writing your thoughts down helps you the same way it’s helped me over the past 18 years; that you find a way to communicate feelings and experiences which makes navigating through life a little easier and a lot happier.
If you need additional support or someone to talk to in confidence, these mental health services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
Lifeline – 131 114
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46 36
Article by Katie Quirk
Katie is a PR consultant, publicist, communications specialist and writer. Katie graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Journalism and Behavioural Studies from Monash University. Based in Melbourne and with a strong background in PR, media relations, events, strategic communications, social media, stakeholder engagement and content development, Katie has almost a decade of PR experience in Australia and abroad.