Today is National Writing Day, an annual celebration of the pleasure and power of creative writing.
I like to write - my blogs, Facebook/Instagram posts, weekly newsletters, and journal. I'm never going to be a novelist or anything, but I find it a great way to be creative and express my thoughts and feelings. It's a kind of meditative process to write in your journal. Some days I dump all of my worries onto a page, others I write to find inspiration, the solution to a problem, or ideas for developing my business. It's amazing what comes to you simply by connecting with the unconscious part of your brain.
I noticed once while journaling that 'creative' and 'reactive' are the same word. It's just the 'c' that moves!
It's funny, but have you ever noticed that when we are calm and still, our creative side can flourish, but when we are stressed and anxious, we are more reactive, sensitive and find it hard to get focused. Maybe this is the difference between the two words?
So how do we use creative writing to change our state from reactive to creative or from stressed to relaxed?
Anxiety requires short and long-term treatments to control its effects on the brain and body as all anxiety disorders vary, just like you differ from the next person. We need different treatments to gain control. What might be helpful to you may have less impact on someone else and vice versa.
Creative writing is one simple strategy you can implement almost immediately. It will change your state effectively in the short term and allow you to start understanding what's causing these thoughts and feelings.
Research shows that the brain and prehistoric conditioning has been responsible for your anxiety attacks, and this can be helpful if we want to learn what has been triggering our attacks. If we investigate, we can find the real cause behind our thoughts and feelings and start to look at ways to change these thoughts into a more positive mindset.
One of the best ways I have found to do this is by writing. There is simply no better way to learn about your thoughts and feelings than by observing them and writing them down.
There are many health benefits to journaling your thoughts, but we are just going to focus on the stressed, anxious feelings of fear and doubt. It doesn't matter who you are, what you do, or even if you can spell. Writing is a private and relaxed way to unwind from the day, jot down your thoughts, complicated emotions and anxieties that are bothering you.
Start with 5 – 15 minutes a day or even just days when stress or anxiety has been an issue for you. Just use the time to write down what's on your mind, what's been bothering you.
Some people prefer a computer to do this, some like a beautiful journal, personally, I'm happy with a pad and a pen.
Just recognise that the amygdala in the brain remembers our stressful experiences. Sometimes, our anxiety is not created by the current situation causing our stress, but from previous experiences that the brain thinks are similar and going to repeat themselves. That's ok. You might not even be aware of these reasons, and that's ok too. Just write about the current situation that is bothering you, and maybe this will be enough to shed some light.
Maybe write down your thoughts in anticipation of a situation you find causes you anxiety. What are you telling yourself? What do you think will happen? How do you feel about it?
Where you may struggle
There may be some obstacles you need to overcome before you are comfortable with this exercise. Here are some common reasons why people don't want to start journaling or where you might have trouble.
1. I don't have any thoughts. I'm just anxious.
Consider Melinda, a 10-year-old girl who goes into the attic to look for camping equipment. As she opens the door, she jumps back, then sees the reason why she jumped. There is a coat on a hook just inside the door. The brain perceived this as the shape of a person who could have been an intruder. Once the Cortex processes the information as just a coat, Melinda calmed down and continued to hunt for her camping gear.
Sometimes, you can walk into a situation, feel anxious and not be sure why. Your amygdala has picked up signals and responded, but why? Once you start to investigate your thoughts a little deeper, you may see a pattern emerging. One single thought can lead to another, sometimes more devastating or having more impact than the first.
Even when you are not sure, still write it down. Start with "I don't know for sure what I am thinking …." And see what flows from there.
2. I don't have time to write down my thoughts.
Remember, you don't have to write down all your thoughts. Firstly, this would be impossible, and that's not the point either.
Also, this is not forever. It's just a process to get you to understand your anxiety. We are just monitoring and challenging thoughts and finding patterns so that we can overcome them. When we are aware of our thoughts, we can make changes to our outlook.
3. My thoughts look stupid in black and white
Even though this is private and no one will ever see your journal, you might still be embarrassed about your thoughts and feelings. That's ok. Feeling a bit silly is a typical reaction, and all it shows is that your brain is starting to add perspective. Anxiety is not rational or logical, but your mind will try to find a logical explanation.
Remember, only when you are fully conscious of your thoughts do you gain the power to change them.
Writing is a good way to let it out when you feel like you're stressed out and can't talk to anyone. This way, nobody can get mad or misunderstand you.