How daily writing can make you more mentally and physically resilient

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It has now become a cliche to say that these are unprecedented times we’re living through. With billions of people confined to their homes, businesses across the world closed down, and the urgent threat of a deadly virus, it is understandable that many people are feeling anxious.

Firstly, we must accept that anxiety is a perfectly valid and normal response to danger and stress, both of which we are all encountering right now. Fear of the unknown has developed in us over many millennia of evolution as a necessary mechanism for dealing with rapid changes in our environment, and there has been no more rapid change than the current one in living memory, so the first step in dealing with your fear and anxiety is to accept it. It’s okay.

Anxiety has several emotional and physical symptoms, including a sense of fear, an inability to concentrate, a racing heart, headaches and more. These symptoms in turn can make doing the work we need to do a lot harder. I don’t know about you, but I am certainly finding it far harder to focus on my daily tasks, and am regularly distracted by the news and social media.

What we are collectively experiencing is a natural “fight or flight” response to danger, but we have very few ways to fight, and most governments are rightly restricting our ability of flight (both literally and figuratively).

So, what to do? Many of us are spending a lot more time at home than previously, and want to do what’s best for ourselves and our families both mentally and physically to help us get through this time.

One treatment that has been scientifically proven to have a positive and lasting effect on both mental and physical health is daily “expressive” or “free” writing, commonly known as Morning Pages.

Expressive writing is writing without stopping for a period of time, without worrying about spelling, grammar or content. The only rule is that, once you’ve started writing, you don’t stop until the time is up or you’ve hit your page- or word-count; you simply transcribe whatever comes into your head, however petty, irrelevant, boring, angry or anything else it may be.

A Cambridge University analysis of the wide-ranging research on expressive writing has shown that this process has a wide range of benefits, both physically and mentally.

Expressive writing appears to have great potential as a therapeutic tool in diverse clinical settings or as a means of self-help, either alone or as an adjunct to traditional therapies.

Here are just some of the mental and physical benefits that researchers have uncovered:

Mental Health Benefits

  • Improved mood
  • Feeling of greater psychological well-being
  • Reduced depressive symptoms
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor

Physical Health Benefits

  • Improved immune system functioning
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved lung function
  • Improved liver function
  • Fewer days in hospital

Why is this? The general conclusion seems to be that writing about our worries and concerns helps us make sense of them in our minds:

It is likely that the development of a coherent narrative helps to reorganise and structure traumatic memories, resulting in more adaptive internal schemas

This in turn means that we spend less time worrying about things, and release less of the useful but physically damaging stress hormone cortisol. It is this hormone that can cause all sorts of unwelcome physical reactions and long-term health problems.

The good news is that the amount of writing required to produce a measurable difference in both mental and physical health can easily be carried out at home in only 15-20 minutes per day.

It is generally accepted that the best time to do your expressive writing is first thing in the morning - before you’ve had your coffee or shower, or even got out of bed! So here’s a trick: if you’ve got into the habit of picking up your phone after waking up, rather than turning to social media or the news (both of which are bound to increase your anxiety), instead open up the Morning Pages App and make those first few minutes of the day about you, not about everyone else!

Aside from the mental and physical benefits outlined earlier in this article, taking the opportunity to write whatever is going through your mind can, over time, offer a huge amount of insight into what it is that is worrying you, and also how your moods and emotions change over time. The app helpfully offers AI-powered textual analysis of these and other features of your writing.

So try it for yourself: take a few minutes each day to write out your feelings and see how your mood and general health improves over time. You'll be amazed at the results.

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