Writing as Medicine

By Ingrid Kildiss

Its 3:30 pm, I’m sitting in class and my mind is racing. There are at least two more hours until my professor lets us out of class, but I can’t sit still. I’m anxious about the argument I got into with my mom this weekend, all the work I need to do, and the mess I left in my apartment, but I’m determined not to leave class. I open up a blank page in my notebook and write. While it’s not easy to write about the things that make me anxious and uncomfortable, it is much much better than remaining in an anxious mindset for the rest of class and risking spiraling into a terrible mood or leaving in the middle of a lecture.

Journaling and creative writing can be helpful in dealing with the potential trauma, stress, and anxiety of school and everyday life. In 1997, the American Psychological Society along with James Pennebaker published a study titled “Writing About Emotional Experiences As A Therapeutic Process,”  in which they argue that individuals who wrote about emotional or traumatic experiences for as little as fifteen to thirty minutes a day for three to five days experienced significant mental health improvements. Self-reports from subjects of this study identify the mental health improvements as being a reduction of stress as well as a reduction of depressed feelings. Many subjects (who were also students) noted an increase in grades in their self-reports. It’s likely that by writing, these young people confront and process tough emotions instead of ignoring them.

So, if you’re ever having a day where you just can’t shake off that anxious feeling, or you feel a bad thought escaping from where you left it last, consider sitting down for fifteen minutes to write. If starting is something you have trouble with, there are plenty of online resources and prompts. My favorite way to start is just to write stream of consciousness. This way, I often find my way to the issues that linger in my subconscious and address them by putting them to paper. Afterward, I tend to feel soothed or lighter. Even that small act can make a huge difference in your life and mental health. And if you’re committed to writing every day, you can find the path to conceits for stories or just to develop a practice of self-care!

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