I feel much more at peace.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I got so much confidence from affirmative writing that I was totally calm and clear during my job interviews.
I’m sleeping better.
I was able to talk with my family about my need for time to use my strengths and talents.
I always have back pain. Always. Now it’s gone! It just went away.
These are some of the things I’m hearing from participants in my workshops, The Write Way to Well-Being.
What is it they’re talking about? I’ll use my own story to give you a sense of the power of writing to improve health, happiness and well-being.
Both my parents died unexpectedly. Though they were in their 80’s and experiencing health challenges, there were no indications with either of them that death was imminent. These deaths came about 6 years apart. The inability to be there to say goodby to two such important figures in my life, with whom I had, shall we say, complicated relationships, made their deaths even more disruptive and emotionally difficult than the grief process that I might have foreseen. My recovery from these experiences came about in part through writing.
Their deaths hit hard and left me with a lingering sense of sadness and distress, especially as there was so much not yet dealt with from my father’s death by the time of my mother’s six years later. It was not my own, freeform writing that helped me integrate and move on from these experiences, but a specific writing approach: expressive writing. This structured writing approach was developed to help in moving forward from traumatic or emotionally disruptive life events. Most of us have had experiences of this kind. They’re a common part of most people’s lives.
“Common” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy to handle.” Sometimes we need help in moving forward after events like these. It’s encouraging to know we can learn to shift our perspective on difficult experiences, make meaning of them, integrate them into our life stories and perhaps discover how we have benefitted from them. In doing so we are likely to find ourselves feeling and doing better. Expressive writing lets us literally take our mental, physical, emotional and behavioral well-being into our own hands!
Developed by psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker in the 1980s, expressive writing has now been used and studied for over 30 years. There is a strong body of evidence showing expressive writing’s effectiveness in reducing signs of stress and improving markers of some chronic physical and mental health conditions. It also improves mood, academic and work performance and social relationships. Writing can be an important part of a comprehensive approach to improving health and well-being.
I took an expressive writing workshop in 2013 with psychologist Michelle Pearce. I didn’t know what to expect and wondered if there’d be a lot of emotional outpouring, or if I myself would burst out crying. It turned out to be a very calm environment, with guidelines for writing honestly, expressively and privately. We didn’t share our circumstances or our writing, but instead discussed our experiences of the writing process. And because we were writing for ourselves only, we were freed from worrying about spelling, punctuation, grammar or structure. We were able to focus on just telling our stories for ourselves as we wrote in response to a series of prompts.
After that I took part in a training for health and human service professionals, Leading Others in Writing for Health, offered by Pennebaker’s colleague John Evans. I’ve now offering The Write Way to Well Being, in-person and online workshops using five forms of writing for well-being. In addition to expressive writing, we use transactional writing, poetic writing, affirmative writing and legacy writing.
It’s been an honor sharing this workshop with others. It’s something I look forward to continuing to do. You might wonder if you would benefit from The Write Way to Well-Being. You’re likely to if:
- There’s a disruptive or traumatic event from your past that’s still on your mind;
- Overall you’re doing pretty well in life, but this event is on your mind more than you want it to be; perhaps you feel “stuck” due to it; you sense it might be contributing to stress or keeping you from experiencing the level of well-being you wish to have;
- You’d like to come to find strategies for expressing gratitude or forgiveness;
- You want to find new perspectives and improve your self-esteem;
- You’d like to clarify your values, strengths and talents so you can put them to use;
- You’d like to express what’s deep in your heart – how you want to be known, the impact you wish to make in the world.
Sign up now to join a free Write Way to Well-Being introductory webinar. Get a sense of the power of affirmative writing and learn about the other four approaches to writing for well-being.