This is a guest post by Laura Stroud.
Writing has always been my space to make sense of what’s going on. The thrill and the comfort of a blank page has helped and healed me more times that I can count. The reliability and the space that my glowing screen provides is something I can never measure.
But can creative writing really help us deal with anxiety?
Creative writing and anxiety
Evidence shows the many benefits of writing things down.
The power of the pen is well documented. These benefits lend themselves to creative writing too. Not only can it bring more joy and gratitude but there is also so much potential for mindfulness, escape and enjoyment. All of these things can help us deal with anxiety in a healthy way.
In fact, a recent study showed that participating in just forty-five minutes of art can significantly reduce stress in the body. When I feel anxious or stressed, sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is reaching for a pen or flipping my laptop open, but there are so many reasons why this is exactly what we should be doing.
4 ways creative writing can help with anxiety
1. Creative writing can provide an escape
Writing can propel us into new worlds. Lifting us from the very space we occupy, transporting us to new places and unfamiliar destinations. Creative writing can transition us into a state of flow.
Flow can be described as reaching a state where we are so engaged in what we’re doing, time and space cease to exist. When we reach this state, we can truly allow our minds to switch off from other anxieties—even if it’s only temporary—it can give us the respite we need.
2. Creative writing can provide space for reflection
By giving ourselves space to notice our anxiety, we are more likely to identify the exact triggers. We can put distance between ourselves and the overwhelming feelings we might be experiencing by writing them down.
Tim Ferriss talks about this as ‘fear-setting’, when we write our worries down, the space we create for them on the page allows us to look at them differently. Dissecting them and holding parts of them up to the light for closer inspection. We can identify strategies and solutions that we might not have otherwise seen.
Creative writing can provide this space for reflection even if it is subconsciously. Our stories so often say the things we cannot; our characters sometimes face our greatest fears. In writing all of this down we can ease the weight of their unknowns.
3. Creative writing can provide a release for emotions and feelings
A blank page or a new story can be the perfect place to explore how we feel.
Evidence shows that writing about difficult emotions and feelings can lead to the development of greater resilience. The more resilience we develop the more we are able to create coping strategies and tools to protect ourselves from anxiety and overwhelming experiences. Resilience also helps us to maintain balance at times of elevated stress.
The act of creating something physical is also a way to expel the extra energy so often created by anxiety and this can be a great release.
4. Creative writing allows you to be in control
You are in control of your story. Often anxiety can stem from a feeling of a lack of control. When we craft stories, we get to decide the ending. We can edit and tweak, twist and change. We are in complete control.
Having feelings of control, even if it is over our fictional ideas, allows us to ground ourselves. There are some things we can control and things we choose. It’s important to grab on to those things when we can. Grounding helps us deal with anxiety by providing structure and constants.
Where to start?
We know the benefits of creative writing and know we need to make sure we are carving out time for it. But where do we start?
Often this feels like it’s the last thing on our list to do, but it is so important we prioritise writing time to help deal with anxieties.
Free writing can be a great place to start. Free writing, by its very definition, should be free from strict rules or guidance. Set a timer for five minutes and write down all the things that are swimming in your head: worries, ideas, things you are grateful for, plans, and lists.
If you can, increase the timer for ten or twenty minutes. Always start by emptying your brain of these thoughts. Then, who knows where you might end up?
You could start free writing about a new character, or a world you are building, or you could end up writing a new scene or a new chapter. This sort of writing shouldn’t be about us putting more pressure on ourselves, it should be about freeing the anxiety and worries that might be subconsciously moving across our thoughts.
Your story matters now, more than ever.
I believe in you and your stories. Keep writing and keep using it as a place to empty the worries that circle in your head. The page has no judgement, just space and reflection. That makes me feel instantly better.
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.– Joan Didion
At a time when the world seems a little uncertain, spinning slowly out of control, it can feel frivolous, cheap or even audacious to take time for ourselves and our writing, but it is so important that we keep telling our stories and keep sharing the words on our hearts.
The world needs stories now more than ever. The escape; the joy; the total absorption of new worlds and other lives just with the flip of a page.
Yet it’s not just readers that need stories. As writers it is so, so important we keep writing.
Laura Stroud is a writer working across non-fiction through her travel and lifestyle blog. Laura is the Chief Storyteller at Stories from a Backpack, where she writes for an audience of women who want to live a life of adventure. Supporting her readers to ‘live a life worth writing about’ through her new line of travel reflection products.
Laura is currently studying full-time for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Derby. She’s writing her first series of novels based on her years of backpacking and travelling through South East Asia and Australia. Get in touch on Instagram via @storiesfromabackpack.