It is well known that creativity is beneficial for wellbeing, however, most people associate this with visual arts like painting and crafts. Writing is an amazing way to flex your creativity and express your feelings and thoughts – plus, it’s accessible, free, and fun!
The most influential study on the benefits of writing occurred in the early 1980s by Professor James Pennebaker, from the University of Austin. He asked a group of students to write their deepest thoughts and emotions for 20 minutes every day, to see if it impacted their health.
Over the next few months, he found that this had a profound effect on their physical and mental wellbeing. Compared to a control group, those who had been writing every day had fewer colds and cases of flu and had to visit the college doctor less.
I know this sounds like a strange coincidence, but following this early experiment, many researchers have also found positive effects of writing on physical and mental health. For example, in 2019 The Royal Mail, The Prince’s Trust and Action for Children, found that half of the young people they spoke to said that writing made them feel better when they were sad and 47% said that writing made them feel calmer.
Maybe you’ve never written anything more than a school assignment or a shopping list. Maybe you write as a job, but you’re losing the sense of ‘why’ you started.
Whatever your relationship with writing is, I encourage you to discover how writing can be good for you, rather than just focusing on whether or not you’re good at it.
How Can Writing Improve Wellbeing?
Writing can provide a creative escape from studying, phones, and screens. It allows you to use your imagination and come up with new ideas.
Expressing Negative Emotions
Writing down the things that are bothering you is a great way to express any negative thoughts and feelings, especially if you struggle to speak them out loud.
Writing down an issue or problem you are facing means you can look at it from an external and objective position, which can help you make sense of it and find a solution.
As well as expressing negative thoughts and feelings, you can also use writing to record happy thoughts and feelings. This will encourage you to focus on the positives and improve your mood.
Writing allows you to explore interests and ideas that you might not share with the people around you. When you write, you don’t need to worry about how someone else might respond, so you can write about anything you want!
Now you know why you should start writing, here’s how…
5 Writing Activities to Try for Wellbeing
“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” – Charles Dickens
Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to encourage positive thoughts. Being thankful for all the things you have in your life means you spend less time worrying about the things you don’t have, and so you start to look for the good in everything around you.
I like to keep a small notepad on my bedside table and at the end of each day (or as soon as I wake up the next morning) I write down the things that made me smile on that day. This could be something like a conversation with a friend, a nice cup of tea, or sunny weather.
Try writing a short poem about one of the following emotions:
Start by thinking about the physical sensations that occur with the emotion, and then include the thoughts that go with them. This will help you to identify and express your own emotions.
You can also start this exercise by thinking about the emotions you are feeling in that present moment, and identifying the physical sensations and thoughts you’re experiencing. This can be a great way to release any emotions you have been holding on to.
Try not to worry too much about whether or not the poem is good, but enjoy taking the time to make it an accurate representation of the emotion.
Timed Creative Writing
This is a great exercise if you’ve always wanted to try creative writing, but never felt like you had the time.
Start by opening a fiction book on a random page, and write down the first line that you read. Make this the first line of your story.
Alternatively, look around you and write down 10 “keywords” from the things you see. Try to include all these things in your story.
Then set a timer for 10-20 minutes (or however long you have to spare) and let your imagination run with the prompts you’ve written down. It doesn’t matter if you don’t finish the story; just use your creativity to create something in the time you’ve set aside.
Step 1: Choose a Visual Prompt:
Choose something that visually engages you. This can be an object like a plant or a candle, or a photograph of a beautiful place. Place it in front of you.
Step 2: A Short Meditation
Close your eyes and take deep, calming breaths. Try to focus on the sensations of the body rather than getting carried away with thoughts and feelings; you can count your breath if you find this helps.
Step 3: Write a Description
Write a description of the object in detail for about 5 to 10 minutes – how it looks, smells, and feels.
Step 4: Associations
Write for another 5 minutes about any thoughts, memories, or associations that the object brings to mind.
This should have a calming effect and make you feel more appreciative of the world around you. It should also increase your mental focus and awareness of the present.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view’’ – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
Writing can be used to help view things from a different perspective, which in turn can increase empathy and help you connect with other people.
Think about a conversation you had recently or an event you went to with another person.
Now imagine that you’re the other person in that conversation or viewing that event, and write about it from their point of view. Think about what they will have heard and seen, and how it differs from your own perspective.
If you want to take this further, imagine you’re a historic figure or a celebrity you admire. Now write a journal entry as though you are them. Imagine what they might be thinking, feeling, and experiencing.
All you need now is a pen, paper, and some creativity!