Have you noticed changes in your emotional well-being over the past 6 months? If so you’re far from alone! You probably already know that from talking to friends, family and colleagues. Two major recent studies, one by the Kaiser Family Foundation and one by the CDC back you up on that. They show that while we’ve been rightly focusing on protecting our physical health, mental health challenges have increased due to the impacts of the corona virus.
Fortunately, there are many things we can do that protect both emotional and physical well-being, since body and mind are one. One of these is writing to heal through expressive writing.
Writing to Heal
Dr. James Pennebaker, the social psychologist who has done much of the research on the benefits of writing,… has found that a significant portion of people in his studies who wrote about emotional or traumatic experience for a brief amount of time for a few days were significantly more healthy, had lower stress hormone levels, and stronger immune systems than those who had written about a neutral topic (such as a description of the room) during the same time.
Expressive writing has been studied for over 3 decades by James Pennebaker and colleagues throughout the world. It brings healing by allowing us to integrate a disruptive, difficult or traumatic experience into the overall fabric of our lives. We make sense of the experience, connecting it to our deepest and most true thoughts and feelings. We link it to our past, present and future selves, using what we’ve learned to make a positive difference for ourselves and others. As a certified expressive writing facilitator, I love offering writing exercises to coaching clients, and use them in my workshops and mini-retreats. They make a palpable and immediate difference by bringing new perspectives and important insights. Afterwards, people report back to me changes like sleeping better, finding ways to resolve long-standing family issues, and finding forgiveness and compassion for self and others.
Are you ready to give it a try? Here’s a warm-up exercise to get you started.
Writing Warm Up
What words would you use to describe the impact of the pandemic on your life?
Take 3 minutes or so to make a list of whatever comes to mind. Let the words flow as they come to mind. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or the order in which they appear – just write. This writing is just for you.
Ready for Your Prompt? First, Some Writing Guidelines
Expressive writing is not so much what happened as it is how you feel about what happened or is happening.
- Plan to write for up to 20 minutes per day for 4 days, until you feel you are done.
- Write your deepest, most honest thoughts and feelings.
- You might link your current experiences to other parts of your life: your relationships to important others, or to your past, present and future. Who have you been? Who are you now? Who would you like to become?
- Describe events and people involved – any details you want to include, keeping your focus ion your thoughts and feelings more than on those details.
- Express all your emotions feely, those that are difficult, those that are positive.
- To give yourself the freedom to write openly, protect your privacy by keeping your notebook in a safe place, or using a password protected file on your computer/e-device.
- Let your writing go where it wants to.
- If you get stuck for what to say next, keep pen to paper, writing about feeling stuck until the words flow again.
- Follow the “flip-out” rule. If you become sad or cry, that’s to be expected as you let difficult feelings to surface. If you feel like the writing will push you over the edge, stop. Close out the writing for now by acknowledging that a lot got stirred up.
This powerful writing prompt guides you in describing your experiences of living through the pandemic and other current personal, societal, political and world events. I used it during a recent mini-retreat. The participants said it helped them gain needed insight, relieved difficult feelings and helped them see how they can move forward positively with what they’re learning and experiencing.
- Write about your deepest thoughts and feelings about how the events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the BLM movement, or something that’s affecting you personally.
- Think about your identity and how your life has been impacted.
- How are current events related to other experiences in your life?
- How have these events impacted your mental/physical/spiritual health, your well-being?
Suggestions for Your Writing
You might write about your experiences of social distancing; activism; other life challenges that have arisen during this time; your relationships with friends, significant others, school; changes in employment and daily routines; your own experience of illness or the illness of a loved one, or anything else that comes to mind. Explore the issues that are most significant for you during this time. These are all options. You can write about other things that occur to you, too. The emotions and thoughts you express might be challenging or positive ones. Use negative emotion words where needed and positive emotion words where honest and real.
Get in touch if you have thoughts, questions or observations you’d like to share after you write! I promise that I’ll respond.
Prompt adapted from one posted on Linked In by John F. Evans