Writing as Self-Care by Zach Wilson

Post date: Feb 27, 2017 7:29:06 PM

“Treat yourself” may be the most popular phrase that expresses an important aspect of handling the stress of daily life. Buying that pint of ice cream after a week of grueling, thankless workouts. Going out for drinks on a Wednesday because you took the hardest midterm of your life earlier that day. Giving yourself time to watch an episode of that guilty pleasure show after a rough shift at work (don’t lie, we all have one). All of these are examples of self-care: prioritizing your mental, emotional and physical health enough to realize when your stress has hit a dangerous level and you need some comfort. Self-care comes in many forms, and not all of them involve splurging on sweets or binging Netflix. One of these methods is expressive writing—yeah, I know, the idea of writing voluntarily makes most people want to run the other way. Hear me out first.

In a study done by Harvard Health, Dr. James Pennebaker observed how a group of people with normal to high stress levels (full-time workers, students, or both) were affected by journaling for fifteen minutes a day. He found that freewriting even for this short amount of time was effective in helping these individuals regulate their emotions and even reduce anxiety; a small sample of students with test-anxiety who wrote about their feelings before the exam received higher overall grades than those who did not.

If you’re still not convinced, I should add that journaling has no guidelines or expectations. Some people write angsty poems (mine are cringe-worthy), while others just vent about a coworker or professor who, like, totally has it out for them (again, don’t lie, we all have one). Another technique is making up a story to take your mind off of the all-too-real stressors you might be feeling in your normal life. These can be anything from writing yourself as a Jedi to imagining you’re on your way to the Grammy’s with husband Frank Ocean (anything is possible! It’s your journal, your fantasy).

In order for writing as self-care to be effective, it’s important to think of it outside of the academic mindset you might have when crafting essays for a grade. Writing for yourself is meant to alleviate some of the stress piled on you from other areas of your life (including writing those intimidating essays and research papers) instead of adding more. Writing for a few minutes at the end of a long day can help to remove some of the emotional and mental anxiety you’ve accumulated by writing it out physically; sometimes it feels really satisfying to rip out the paper and crumple it up afterwards, so you can literally throw away your negativity. So the next time you’re at the end of your rope, grab a notebook and try it out. The benefits are real, and you might even feel a little more relaxed the next time you open your laptop to write that essay for your most critical instructor.