by Jenna Kalinsky.
Why is there a direct and discernible relationship between writing and gaining clarity, improving your well-being, and simply feeling better? It’s due to 3 distinct yet interconnected reasons:
- Taking the theoretical jumble of thoughts and emotions and “translating” them into a tangible product makes them less threatening and more manageable
- Untangling a mass of idea and feeling and laying it out in a clearly defined and coherent linear format enables you to understand its development, make logical connections, and find solutions
- Physically “removing” the thoughts and feelings from your body alleviates your mental and emotional load.
Many studies have been done on the marked improvement in mood that comes from writing, whether it’s in the form of a narrative or simple journaling.
Rather than keeping your thoughts bottled up, once you try writing them down and see how quickly you start feeling better, you’ll find clever ways to carry paper and pen (or get all James Bond and talk into your smart watch) everywhere you go!
1. Translate Your Thoughts into a Tangible Product
We humans are engines of thought and feeling, but it’s only when we make our thoughts and feelings real by rendering them physically into words that we’re able to most clearly “see what we’re saying.”
Turning the swirling uncertainty and overwhelming mess of rumination into language reduces its power and enables us to far more logically and reasonably see what we’re working with for what it really is and make decisions or get a handle on what’s on our minds.
Talking can also be beneficial, but it is not always an option for many reasons: shyness, unavailability of a sympathetic ear, or the timing is off (the middle of the night, for example, which is a classic time to get upset from too much thinking is largely a bad time for a heart-to-heart with most anyone).
Talking also relies on the speaker having the requisite clarity or maturity to even be able to cogently enough string together what’s bothering them aloud.
Talking is also not as sticky, apparently, as writing, whose effect to calm the mind is greater than that of a conversation.
This may be due to the impermanence of talking vs. the solidity and permanence of writing. Given that when we see our sentences traveling forward (see #2) both within their own units of information as well as leading from one to the next, we’re best able to see our thoughts develop. This visible development invites clarity, meaning, or understanding, which talking may not as easily do.
Further, on the page, you’re alone, not having to perform, be judged, or meet anyone else’s needs or standards. It’s just you and your words: the ultimate act of mindfulness and being present, which is empowering.
Faced with the tactile manifestations of your own mind is like entering into a relationship with yourself, and a positive one.
It’s both an alleviation and an invitation for you to want to keep turning all that’s inside you out, knowing you can make sense of yourself in that tangible context with much more agency and control.
When web designer Astrid Sucipto saw her daughter struggling with emotional regulation, she turned her daughter toward writing. Not finding any journals for children that helped with prompting them to write about their feelings, like any good creative, she developed her own: My Big Feelings Journal: for Kids Aged 4-7.
For her, it was key that the journal feel like a safe, supportive space that allows a child to move freely between drawing and writing, capitalizing on all of a child’s resources, and to keep the pages visually dynamic and fun.
“The opportunity for kids to write to prompts is easier than their having to face a blank page, and through their creativity, they can feel more peace.”
We adults also benefit from seeing our thoughts manifest on the page (Astrid has also created journals for teachers, so they too can process and plan as part of their work and life as educators).
As Flannery O’Connor famously said, “I don’t know what I think until I see what I say.” Even the cleverest person is still susceptible to not knowing their own mind or heart occasionally, and it’s only once you make your thoughts and feelings real on the page do we see with the best clarity what’s going on.
The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.
~ From “Writing Your Way to Happiness,” by Tara Parker Pope
Once your thoughts and feelings are physically manifested, you gain control. Then, it’s far easier to manage them, or simply to acknowledge them, which enables you to begin to find solutions, clarity, catharsis, and to take action.
2. Going Linear Leads to Clarity
One of the nicest things about language is it is constructed on foundations of linearity. Words strung together in sentences are built to travel forward. The most basic sentence—someone/thing does something (subject-verb)—is the core of communication.
That traveling invites causality, which leads to resolution and meaning.
Some people find walking, running, or swimming—any exercise that requires the body to move forward—the thing that inspires them to think and come to conclusions, and it’s true: moving forward physically invites our thoughts to develop as well.
But nothing beats writing down your ideas for seeing them unfold and become.
If you are ever confused, unclear, or overwhelmed, all you have to do is park yourself at your journal or computer for a short spell, let the words pour forth, and within minutes, you’ll have new insight and a clearer understanding of not only what’s bothering you but what you can do to fix your situation.
3. Relieve Your Mental Load
Another benefit to writing down what’s bottled up inside is it relieves your mental load. In the Harry Potter movies, Dumbledore physically pulls the memories out of his head and stores them in a pensieve.
Any time he or another character needs to access the memories in full detail, they only need to plunge their heads into the pensieve basin, and they are thrust back in time to that exact moment.
The visual of his pulling long silvery strands out of his head and adding them to the pensieve is a great one for anyone who frankly has a full head and heart and just needs to offload some of what’s weighing them down.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, talks about doing this as a matter of “middle of the night rumination off-dumping.”
We all know what it’s like to lie awake in the middle of the night with our minds churning, the worry and anxiousness sometimes growing in size and intensity like a hot glowing coal until it’s almost too much to bear.
But by simply jotting down what’s bothering you, she says, you’re removing the situation from your body to the page, the equivalent of setting down a brick you’ve been carrying around, and typically you’ll feel better instantly and be able to go back to sleep.
When you awake at 3 a.m. to ruminate on things that are bothering you, the best and most salient way to make those thoughts real is to bring them out of the bingo ball cage of your brain and onto the page.
~ “Set Your Intentions with 5-Minute Writing Prompts,” Jenna Kalinsky
The mental, emotional, and physical benefits of writing down your thoughts in order to feel better are many. Like a sigh of relief cleaning the lungs and mind, writing down what’s bothering you will make your thoughts manageable, deliver you to clarity, and allow you to unburden your mental load, leaving you feeling better equipped to handle the rest of your life with much more energy and drive.
Sounds like reason enough to get started, doesn’t it?