Good morning and happy new week. Today’s Mental Health Monday is a guest post from writer, Desiree Villena. It is the first time I have handed my new baby project over to someone else, but I really enjoyed this piece and thought it had some really good ideas in it. I hope you enjoy it too, please leave me any feedback in the comments at the end of the post as I love hearing what you think!
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction, writing short stories, and creative journaling.
Heads up: mental health is (literally) on everyone’s mind these days. Since late April, around a third of Americans have reported symptoms of anxiety and depression — a startling statistic that shows just one of the severe consequences that the global pandemic has wreaked upon the world.
Luckily, there’s some good news: one of the best ways to work through a mental slump is available to everyone, whether they’re in self isolation or not. As people have found throughout history (pandemic or no pandemic), it helps your mind immensely simply to pick up a pencil and start writing.
This post will dive into the five ways that writing can provide a much-needed boost to your mental health — and how you can start taking up the habit today.
Put simply, it’s good for your mental health if you can let out your creativity. Studies have proven the strong connection between creativity and wellbeing. Partaking in any creative practice can boost your cognitive function, prevent degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and alleviate anxiety.
You can pick up any creative activity to prove this point yourself. But you’ll find that some outlets might scratch a different itch from others. Painting, for instance, might be great when you’re trying to express an unexplained emotion. Others might make quizzes to process knowledge. Meanwhile, people who experiment with photography might be focused on preserving a moment in time.
And what about writing? Well, writing can help you process your thoughts and put them into words. Which leads me to how…
Oxford Dictionary defines “mindfulness” as the “quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”
Now, consider that the very act of writing — the act of turning your thoughts into words — compels you to be aware of your own mind. This in and of itself is a powerful feat: as Barack Obama once said, “In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are. The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.”
Just as importantly, writing allows you to get those thoughts out of your brain in the first place. Sometimes, you might get carried away thinking obsessively about the past or the future. Emptying those distracting thoughts onto paper can help clear your mind and re-focus on the present.
Here’s an exercise: try sitting down at your desk and setting a timer for 5 minutes. Next, close your eyes and start to write. If you can touch-type, great. If not, pen and paper will work just as well. Now, pause every few sentences to take a deep breath. As you continue to write with your eyes closed, do you find yourself more in touch with your surroundings? Your own thoughts? And the present?
In 2004, economist Sonali Deraniyagala was on vacation with her family in her native Sri Lanka when one of the deadliest tsunamis in recorded history struck the coast. Deraniyagala survived — but she lost her two sons, her husband, and her parents that day.
Wave is the brutally devastating memoir that Deraniyagala wrote nearly a decade later about living through an unimaginable tragedy that not many others can fathom. But she hadn’t planned to write a book. In her own words:
It didn’t start out as a book. I was writing to myself, trying to unravel myself. I started with the wave itself, trying to remember what I saw of it, why I sensed something terrible was about to happen. Later, I wrote about the sensation of being in the water, being swept away, what it felt like being in that water for 20 minutes, and the strange things that happened to me after the wave subsided. I was seeing a therapist, who read these passages, and was very kind to me, saying, ‘You should write . . . you should have this published.’” But the only purpose in writing was so that I could remember, so that I could surround myself with my family again.”Sonali Deraniyagala
If you, too, are struggling to come to terms with trauma or stress, you might find solace in writing directly about it. Expressive writing — writing to express and describe your emotional experiences — has been linked to a number of benefits, from improving symptoms of depression and anxiety to reduced blood pressure and a greater psychological well-being. You don’t have to turn your writing into a book or even try to self-publish what you write, but you will probably find that it’ll help your mental health, nonetheless.
Of course, you don’t always have to write about yourself to give yourself a mental boost! If you have imagination and a desire to invent, you can try fiction writing as a therapeutic exercise.
You might be surprised to discover that many fiction books are grounded in an author’s personal (and often painful) emotional experience. Tim O’Brien is a veteran of the Vietnam War who famously wrote The Things They Carried — a metafictional account of the experiences of soldiers in the Vietnam War. Isabel Allende’s classic The House of the Spirits began as a letter to her dying 100-year-old grandfather. And it’s said that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the entire Lord of the Rings series to work through the trauma that he experienced as a soldier on the front lines of World War I.
Again, there’s no pressure to publish what you write. First and foremost, your fictional writing space should benefit you. But one thing is certain: when we write fiction, we have full control over the book description and how the story will go — a luxury that often can’t be said for our own lives.
Hey, we get it. Sometimes you want nothing at all to do with reality. Indeed, sometimes you want to do the very opposite of engaging with your life, especially during a global pandemic — you just need to escape it in order to stay sane.
And here’s where writing fiction can also shine! With genres like sci-fi and fantasy, you can give your mind a break from your present reality and write stories that transport you far away. If you need some writing inspiration to start you off, just pick any writing prompt from this directory.
Remember: how you choose to engage with writing is entirely on your own terms. Understanding the health benefits is only half the fun, however — wait until you see what a wonderful experience the actual writing can be. That part is completely up to you. So get that pencil and paper, and good luck!
I really want to start journalling and love some of the ideas I have found on Pinterest. There are so many ideas to get you starred with tips and prompts for every day if you don’t know what to write about. I hope you are all staying safe and keeping well,