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Writing to Control Stress

Writing is both a daunting and a rewarding task. The blank document is a realm of overwhelming possibility even for the most seasoned writer. Hence, writer’s block. Last-minute essays done out of desperation rather than to relax!

With all things considered, how can writing be relaxing? As a professional writer, the deadline-driven world of laying well-thought-out sentences on a page stresses me out even thinking about it! It’s a common problem, and it plagues professional writers, students, and people long out of school.

Personally, I think the stresses of writing go back to school – when we had to write an assignment, we had to turn it in for a teacher to grade. Whether we wrote well or not, following the assignment and our own ideas and opinions were under scrutiny for a little letter on your report card. It carries over into our jobs; writing becomes an assignment, homework, a chore. Our perception of our writing often boils down to what other people think of our writing, not what we think of our own thoughts and voice.

School aside, grades and performance reviews cast asunder, writing can relax you! It’s a great way to vent, to throw your thoughts out there, and even to sharpen your critical thinking skills, vocabulary, and grammar! According to Harvard Review, expressive writing is a proven way to reduce stress after a traumatic experience, as long as it’s not too soon after the trauma. The subjects explored traumatic events they experienced through their writing and worked through their feelings about the event.

You don’t have to write about a traumatic event to gain the benefits of writing every day – writing to control stress can be done independently, or incorporated into a treatment program. Writing about your feelings can become a wonderful outlet to express yourself or organize your thoughts, no matter what the subject matter. If you’re ready to start making a positive change in your life, and want to give writing as an outlet a try, here are some prompts to get you started:

  1. Journal – journaling your thoughts and feelings throughout the day is a great way to vent frustration and bounce ideas. You can use journaling as a sounding board to find solutions to everyday problems, or work through lifelong struggles.
  2. Sentence Salad – In the creative writing workshops I’ve gone to, this is a popular exercise they dole out. Basically, you write whatever comes to mind and you don’t stop writing for 5-10 minutes. This is a good exercise to get you into the habit of writing daily, and to clear “blocks” of writing. By building the habit of writing continuously, you can begin to form thoughts and feelings on the page with more ease!
  3. Lists – if you’re not a regular writer, or trying to get back into the game, writing daily lists can also help. It can help break up sentences and paragraphs into bite-sized chunks that look and feel less overwhelming to complete.
  4. Gratitude writing – often goes hand-in-hand with the above, writing down who and what you are thankful for can break a negative streak. It also forces you to look at your attitude; if you have to think of everything you are grateful for rather than the hardships you have to face, this writing exercise makes you focus on the positive.
  5. Goal Writing – Keep a list of the goals you’ve set for yourself. Don’t have any? Make some! Start by dreaming big, or think back to what you always wanted to do with your life when you were a kid (go to space, see dinosaurs, become a ballerina). As an adult, now is the time to start making the vision of your life happen. Maybe you can’t go to space, but you could start taking classes on astronomy at your local community college next fall. Maybe you could think about working for your local zoo. Your goals could also be small, like reading more books. From a list of goals, you can start journaling your progress each day, and with each step taken, you will be excited to go back to your journal.

 

You can take one of these prompts, or meld all of them together. Wht matters is taking the time to take your thoughts and desires and put them on paper, or on screen. However, even after starting, some of those old anxieties might creep up. Here are some ways to conquer blocks:

  1. If grammar wasn’t your best subject, forget about it! This is your journal, not an assignment for school! Don’t stress about spelling and grammar too much in your expressive writing. If you are concerned about it in your journaling (or everyday life), an excellent, natural way to sharpen your skills is to read daily. You will pick up on spelling and grammatical rules more naturally that way.
  2. It’s just you! Again, there’s no deadline chomping down at you. There’s no prying eyes of a teacher, or a proofreader. To allow your writing to relax you, you need the mindset that it’s just you and the paper.
  3. Think of possibilities, not of worries! If you have a mindset of where your writing can take you, rather than how overwhelming it is, it can become a journey rather than a drag.
  4. You don’t have to keep it – if you hate what you wrote, you can always throw it away and start from scratch.

Make it a habit – every day, for 30 minutes, make yourself sit in front of your word processor and write. It doesn’t matter if you stare blankly at the paper, set aside 30 minutes each day for writing. Does the internet distract you? Try an app that blocks web-browsing or write in a notepad.

 Trying these prompts can also help you find how you can manage your stress and emotions: whether it’s openly writing them out, or displacing them into goals and lists. It can be done as a self-help tool, or as a part of a treatment plan. Whether you are a novice or an experienced writer, putting words to paper can help release stress. Happy Writing!

 

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