It doesn’t matter what writing style, genre, or voice you favour when it comes to expressive writing. What matters is that it works for you. In other words, whichever format you like to use to convey your untold story, as long as it achieves the desired goals, it’s acceptable.
I recall back in 2018 before I started practicing authentic writing, I was virtually out of touch with reality to the point that my mental health, and most importantly, my life, was in jeopardy.
Whilst everyone I know in person and online can keep up with the demands of their jobs with high spirits, I’ve found myself trapped in a rut, unsure of how to move forward and why. Maxwell Guttman, in his words, revealed a similar feeling as to how it was for me when he said,
“Without coping skills, a good therapist, or real friends as supports, my behaviour became more extreme. Eventually, the emotional pain I was enduring as an unhappy high school adolescent converted over into numbness.
We’re too preoccupied to ponder on and assess our hasty decisions
Writing diaries and reflecting journals we’re often overlooked and taken for granted. I didn’t feel the need to self-reflect and assess my decisions when I was still at the top of my game.
I couldn’t spare even a few minutes a day at the time. Even when I had free time, I used my rigorous freelance writing schedules and client and editor expectations as excuses to avoid confronting the issues.
Years of self-sabotage, which culminated in serious depression and the development of an eating problem, completely blinded me to the signals of my deteriorating state. My parents were worried and felt hopeless about my situation.
Despite their efforts, it wasn’t long until I found myself stuck in a rabbit hole with no way out, which I refer to as my ‘dark era’. That continued for a few years until I got a wake-up call and decided to do something about it.
To be honest, I’ve only recently begun to allow myself to open up and be honest with myself about what’s going on. I had no idea that saving myself from the worst simply took 15 minutes a day. Fortunately, I’ve had the support of others when I’ve been unable to live my life on my terms. But what if I hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunity?
How does expressive writing help in improving our well-being?
- Expressive writing reduces the long-term impacts of trauma. In 1997, James W. Pennebaker published an article in thejournal Psychological Science about an in-depth examination of expressive writing based on a similar study done 11 years before. In his study, he discovered that 15 percent of people who said they were sexually abused before the age of 17 are more likely to visit their doctors at a higher rate later in life than those who did not. Pennebaker noted: ‘If retaining a secret about a trauma was bad, it made obvious that revealing the truth should promote health.’
- Expressive writing forces you to face what you fear most. As a result of his findings, he asked the participants to write about their most traumatic life experiences for 15 minutes each day for a few days at random. Pennebaker stated: People who suffered any form of trauma but kept it hidden were the most likely to have a variety of health problems.’ Although expressive writing is effective, it can only work if you allow yourself to be vulnerable inside that timeframe and tell your story about what happened and how it made you feel. This is how you can process your emotional baggage, allowing you to let go and move on.
- Expressive writing boosts overall health. It may be challenging for you to get started, just like any other little or large-scale startup initiative. However, as long as you trust in the process, despite whatever reservations you may have, you will reap its long-term benefits. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time academics have discovered a link between real writing and enhanced overall health. It dates back more than 20 years when Pennebaker personally tested and witnessed the results. Despite doubters’ incredulity towards writing as a way for holistic healing in the mid-1990s, which implies being physically, emotionally, spiritually, and cognitively healed, has steadily come to be deemed helpful for enhancing one’s total health.
- Expressive writing brings impactful lifetime positive results. Pennebaker discovered that persons, who have engaged in emotional writing, have fewer mental health visits than those who have not. ‘If retaining a secret about a trauma was bad, it made obvious that revealing the secret would improve health,’ he said. He also mentioned that this behaviour is apparent in humans, as we are naturally drawn to share our emotional anguish with others. Simply put, the more we talk about our issues, the better we feel.
- Expressive writing isn’t complicated, to begin with. Just your honesty. You only need to set aside at least 15 minutes of your time and have 24 hours to work with. If your schedule doesn’t allow it, you don’t have to spend more time than what is asked. However, this does not imply that you can skip it simply because you’re busy. You must write more and provide comprehensive tales to convey yourself. However, Pennebaker simply wants your active participation in this activity and readiness to relive the pains you’ve experienced in the past.
Would you try expressive writing today?
The key is that you must let go of your secrets, no matter how painful they are. It not only follows a straightforward reflective writing system, but it also doesn’t take long to achieve excellent results.
At the very least, repeat the technique from the first to the fourth day before seeing results. If you think you can handle it, continue towards your fifth day to the fifteenth day and onwards.
If you’re currently working with a mental health practitioner, this basic reflective writing practice will help them review, assess, and evaluate your treatment progress through expressive writing, as well as you. What more could you want? A simple journal like this one I’ve made doesn’t even cost you that much, does it?
Mecyll Gaspary is a self-published author and publisher with experience working on a variety of in-demand freelance writing jobs.