Perhaps in your teens you kept a diary hidden under your mattress. It was a place where you could talk about your struggles and fears without being judged. Your thoughts and feelings probably felt good after they were written down. Ernest Hemingway once said that writers should ‘write hard and clear about what hurts’. Research now shows that writing about ‘what hurts’ can benefit the mental health of an individual even if Hemingway was unaware at the time. More than 200 studies have shown that writing is beneficial to mental health. Researchers, however, disagree on the reasons and ways writing helps people.
According to one theory, bottling up emotions can lead to psychological distress. Thus, it makes sense that writing might improve mental health because it offers a safe, confidential and free way to express previously suppressed emotions. However, recent studies have shown that self-awareness, rather than simply disclosing emotions, could be the key to these improvements in mental health.
The ability to become aware of oneself is what defines self-awareness in its essence. We can become more aware of our traits, behaviors, feelings, beliefs, values, and motivations by turning our attention inward. Being more self-aware is beneficial in a variety of ways. It can boost our confidence and encourage us to be more accepting of others. It can lead to greater job satisfaction and help us become better leaders. Our long-term goals can also be aligned with it if we exercise more self-control. With practice, self-awareness is a spectrum. Because writing can be practised daily, it may be particularly helpful in increasing self-awareness. Reading our writing again can also give us a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and beliefs.
Finding a healthy way to express yourself is one of the best ways to cope with overwhelming emotions. This makes a journal a valuable tool for managing your mental health. As a result of journaling, you can:
- Manage your anxiety
- Manage stress
- Manage depression
Journaling helps control your symptoms and improve your mood by:
- Identifying and prioritizing problems, fears, and concerns.
- Maintaining a daily record of symptoms to identify triggers and learn how to control them.
- Identifying negative thoughts and behaviors and promoting positive self-talk.
A journal can help you identify what’s causing your stress and anxiety when you have a problem. If you identify your stressors, you can devise a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress. In order to maximize your benefits, you must also:
- Take time to relax and meditate every day.
- Balance your diet by eating healthy foods.
- Get some exercise every day.
- Sleep well.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Follow these guidelines daily in your journal.
Here are three kinds of writing that can improve your self-awareness and mental health:
- Expressive writing
In therapeutic settings, people are often asked to write about their thoughts and feelings in relation to a stressful life event. Writing like this helps people process difficult emotions. Expressive writing has been shown to increase self-awareness and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.
- Reflective writing
In professional settings, reflective writing is commonly used to help nurses, doctors, teachers, psychologists, and social workers become more effective. People use reflective writing to assess their beliefs and actions explicitly for learning and development. In order to write reflectively, one needs to ask themselves questions and be open, curious, and analytical constantly. By helping people learn from their experiences and interactions, it can increase their self-awareness. As a result, professional and personal relationships can improve, as can work performance, which is yet another key indicator of good mental health.
- Creative writing
Creative writing includes poems, short stories, novellas, and novels. In creative writing, imagination is used in addition to, or instead of, memory, and literary devices such as imagery and metaphor are used to convey the message. When you write creatively, you can express your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and beliefs in a unique and personal way. You could, for instance, write a science fiction novel about climate change or a children’s story about friendship that represents your beliefs. An owl’s perspective can also be used to represent your insomnia in a poem.
Creative writing can be a powerful way to convey to others something that is difficult to say directly. It strengthens communication skills by helping writers pick their words and metaphors to describe their experiences in ways that accurately parallel what they’re feeling. In addition to improving mental health, creative decision-making can increase self-awareness and self-esteem.
Developing self-awareness through writing
For a healthy mind, self-awareness is essential and writing can help with that. Why not take a few minutes to write down your feelings about a particularly stressful event that occurred during the pandemic? What lessons did you learn from a stressful work situation from the past year?
It might be more fun to write a poem or a short story about how our homes reflect our lives at the moment. Is your pantry stocked with flour? In order to stave off loneliness and boredom, do you have objects or animals in your home? From your window, what can you see that reveals something about this historic moment? Each of these writing prompts will give you a chance to reflect on the past year, ask yourself important questions, and make creative choices. You could become more self-aware by spending just 15 minutes doing this – which could help improve your mental health.