A few years back I used to work a lot on my writing.
It wasn’t anything professional, it wasn’t even in English, I just really enjoyed writing different role-playing settings.
Very fitting for a geek like me, but I digress.
A few years later, when I joined the army, I forgot all about my writings.
I still enjoyed making up scenarios and the like, it’s just that I was busy 24/7 with boot camp and some “specialized training”.
At the time, my way to escape from reality my connection to these scenarios – my imagination was key.
thinking about of all of those impossible scenarios, of fantasy and possibilities, is one of the few things that allowed me to cling to my sanity.
To not grow too comfortable with my depression.
When I met with a proper therapist, we talked about some of the things that I used to do before becoming depressed, and he introduced me to a new concept.
Journaling for depression and anxiety
The idea of using writing as a form of treatment for depression and anxiety wasn’t something that I disliked.
Unlike many forms of more obscure therapy, it did make a lot of sense to me.
The idea resonated with me, and I was ready to apply it.
There was just this one tiny problem.
I had a bit of a stigma.
No, not against writing or anything, but against “journaling”
I imagined myself sitting down and writing “dear diary” in some notepad. Bah.
It took my therapist only a short while to notice this fact and he explained the matter to me more clearly.
I haven’t looked back ever since.
This website is a part of my “journal”
If you really think about it, this very website is essentially one big journal.
I write about my research, data and personal thoughts here.
I do so to spread my ideas, but the basics are still very much journal-like the way I see it.
So, why am I doing this?
Or more specifically, why should you write a journal/in general?
In one study on the subject of ‘expressive writing’, another term for ‘expressing yourself through writing’, they gathered 40 major depression sufferers.
On day one, they split all participants into two groups and had each group perform a different task.
- Group One Was to write about their feelings surrounding an emotionally-charged event for 20 minutes a day
- Group Two wrote about their, non-emotional, daily events
After five days they checked both groups condition using a standard questionnaire.
The people from group one showed a significant decrease in mental symptoms, one that lasted for up to four weeks.
This isn’t the only piece of data on the subject, either.
It is largely agreed that expressive writing does the mind well, some data shows that it actually produces therapeutic effects on the brain.
Although some studies show that many people demonstrate some negative symptoms at the beginning, they eventually relax.
This is probably due to the uncomfortable nature of journaling.
After all, pulling words out of your very core is a very difficult thing to do.
Still, why isn’t this method more popular?
The resistance to expressive writing
Like I’ve said before, there’s a certain stigma around the subject of “writing”
The imagery most people have for writing in a diary is childish at best and laughable at worst.
I know this much from personal experience, as do you (probably).
But when desperate enough, this problem can be overcome, it isn’t the main issue here.
The worst thing about writing as a form of therapy is the fact that you actually have to put your darkest and most painful feelings into words.
And that’s not an easy thing to do.
Depressed people tend to be very closed off, floating inside their own little world.
It can be argued that they are remarkably self-centered, and as such don’t actually put their problems into words.
When they do, their friends end up being their personal therapists, which is very annoying.
Once your thoughts are out of your head they become defined.
They aren’t ‘concepts’ to ‘ideas’ that you have, they deal with actual, tangible, problems.
And that process of “defining” your thoughts is hard and isn’t something that depressed people really like going through.
Not only because it’s hard, but it can be downright unpleasant.
Yet the benefits far outweigh these few drawbacks, and there are no ‘long-term’ negative effects of expressive writing on either the mind or the body.
Did I say body? Yeah, as it turns out, writing also reduces stress.
And we all know how bad stress can be.
What kind of writing helps your mental health?
We already established that expressive writing does the body and the mind good.
We already discussed how is has to be “expressive” writing – general writing didn’t produce any results in terms of lessening depression.
But if we were to be more specific, how should you write in order to get the best results?
Here are a few of my ideas:
Writing a journal
Best-selling author, investor and entrepreneur Tim Ferris has a personal journal. He writes in it in every morning.
Things he’s grateful for, his hopes for the day and some daily positive affirmations.
At the end of the day, he writes about the best things that happened to him and things that he could’ve done better.
According to him, it helps him de-stress.
They call it “The five-minute journal”.
So what am I saying? Do you have to follow Tim Ferriss’s method? Of course not!
Write about your daily experiences, the best of them and the ones that can be improved – that’s great!
But that doesn’t have to be the end of that.
Write about people that you have met, your opinions on certain events and any future possibilities that you may experience.
The biggest advantage of journaling is that it gives you a very clear system, a schedule of sorts.
It’s the easiest way to write consistently and helps you get into the habit of writing.
If you have about 20 spare minutes at the end of each day, and you probably do, you should give journaling a try.
Freestyle writing exercises
This is a name I just made up, so don’t go looking it up, okay?
When I flat-out told my therapist that I am not going to try journaling, his first response was “it doesn’t have to be journaling”
As it turns out, it really didn’t have to be.
Between the two of us, we came up with some pretty cool ideas for some “writing exercises”
That is to say, 20-minute-long sessions of expressive writing on any topic and situation that are close to your heart.
About how life was before depression, needs that you have right now, how family relations are playing a part in your life and so much more.
Seriously, just look around, there is always something that you can write about.
Here are some extra ideas for you
- Describe your depression
- List 5 things about your life that you can make better
- List 10 things that depression took away from you
- Describe 3 people that you believe that you can trust, and write about why you can trust them
- Write about one positive childhood memory of yours, and describe how you view it right now compared to before.
- Write about your plans for this week, and how you feel about them
- Describe 5 things that you are grateful for (that could’ve been worse)
Just have one of these scheduled each day of the week and you’ll be fine.
I tended to discuss some of my darkest thoughts and philosophies, and that got me a long way in feeling better.
This is something that you should definitely try out
Poems and short stories
Let me come out and say it, I am not very fond of this method.
Not because it isn’t effective or anything, but I am not creative enough a person to benefit from it
Yet there are many people who find a measure of stress relief in creative-expressive writing.
I knew this one guy who would always come up with the darkest pieces of creative writing.
He was really good at it, too.
It is not a coincidence either.
Many would argue that the best pieces of literature are ones that come from the very darkest parts of the writer’s heart.
If you are one of the creative types then this might be it for you.
Plus, on the off chance that you win some awards (or get popular on social media/forums), it might serve as a huge accomplishment.
So there’s that.
Writing about depression in a personal statement isn’t easy
But it’s extremely rewarding all the same.
Does writing help with depression? You bet it does!
Aside from the obvious difficulties, there is very little reason to not try it out.
I figure that most of my readers are capable of reading and writing, and can get their hands on a computer/pen and paper.
That aside, most of you probably have at least 20 spare minutes a day, yes?
Those are the only things that you really need.
No strings attached.
So here’s a question for you – Are you going to start with expressive writing today?
There is very little reason to not pick up writing right after you are finished reading this article.
99% of reasons to not do so are excuses.
And those aren’t going to get you anywhere.
I would love to see your answers in the comment section below, I will read all of them.
If you got any question then just send me an email and I will get back to you.