Recently, I had a double 'a-ha' moment, realising that;
- I have a lifetime habit of writing, that I was unaware of, and
- I think differently depending whether I am writing by hand, typing or dictating.
This insight got me thinking about when I write, why and for what purpose.
I use all three methods (handwriting, typing and dictating), but have a preference depending upon the reason I am wanting to capture those words. Typing lends itself to more reasoned thought. Dictating (into the notes app on my smartphone) lends itself to thoughts and sentences that come fully formed, or conversely are snippets of ideas for possible use ‘someday’. And handwriting tends to be for list writing and scrawled post-it notes, but also for heartfelt, outpouring of feeling type stuff (mostly captured in a notebook or journal).
Writing or Journaling
Writing about our thoughts and feelings is often called journaling. Yet when I was a child, it was simply writing. And then as a teen it was ‘writing a diary’ (which no-one was ever, ever allowed to read!). Now as an adult, the term journaling is used and perhaps gives this habit greater meaning and gravitas than if we were to call it simply 'writing'.
Research has found there are physical as well as mental benefits when you hand write your thoughts in the form of a journal. Some of the benefits of regular writing include;
- activates your brain
- helps reduce stress
- improves your spelling
- helps you remember
- helps you think faster
- stronger immune system (due to lower stress levels)
- enhanced sleep
Plus, handwriting reinforces neural activity in your brain (similar to meditation) and forces you to slow down, be in the moment. In this way writing or journaling is rather like a form of meditation. Bonus!
Writing as therapy
After my insight, I realised that writing, whether it be a journal or letters, has helped me through many of the most challenging times of my life. Travelling half-way around the world by myself for the first time when I was sixteen, working and living in anther country when I was eighteen, and the slow dragging of time with a high-anxiety pregnancy; these were all times when writing helped me not only capture my thoughts and feelings, but also make sense of what I was feeling and preserve my memories of those experiences. In this way, writing was and has been therapeutic.
When we write things out, especially about events that we have a strong emotional response to, we process them a little more.
The act of writing helps us remember, and helps us understand our emotions. The simple act of putting into words what you are feeling in your heart is incredibly powerful. It assists us know how we actually feel. As William Faulkner said,
“I never know what I think about something until I read what I have written on it.”
Writing our thoughts and feelings is a valid and often used therapy technique that can actually change the way we react to certain circumstances and situations. By writing things out, we discover our intentions, increase our self-awareness and can have personal insights. I have found that writing is a great exercise to do when I need to make sense of a situation, or wish to “talk” it through with myself.
It’s also a low-cost exercise with big benefits, unless you use a fancy leather-bound notebook and specialist pen – but even then, it’s less expensive than years of therapy.
Try it yourself
Give it a go, using whatever method (by hand, typing, dictating, or something else) feels and fits best for you. It's a personal choice regarding which approach you use, it doesn’t take long, nor cost much, but can be really beneficial. No need for a pretty notebook; a word document, the notes app in your smart phone or even the back of an envelope can all work for a quick capturing of your thoughts and feelings. So, why not give it a try!
It's Okay to journal.
Let’s continue the conversation. Let me know if you write in a journal, or have tried it. Head over to the Facebook page and share your experiences.