Guest article by Melissa Bloom
When you think of self-care you probably first think of eating well, making time to exercise, and getting a full night of sleep—and, yes, you should do all of those things!
But what about your stress levels? When’s the last time you said, “I’m not stressed!” only to be followed by a mental breakdown you didn’t see coming?
In hindsight it’s easy to recognize and evaluate what life events, people, or experiences led to that moment. And while recognition is the first step in making positive changes for your health, self-care is about having the foresight to stop stress in it’s tracks before it gets out of control.
Of course, there are many ways to reduce stress and make sense of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. But what if I told you that all you really need is a pen and paper?
Studies have shown that creative expression like music, art and writing may help reduce stress and anxiety as well as benefit mental health. Writing, especially, is a versatile form of creative expression that can easily be tailored to fit into your specific lifestyle.
Here are five ways you can incorporate writing into your self-care practice:
1 Write 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness thoughts first thing in the morning. These pages are often referred to as Morning Pages, a term coined by creative self-help guru Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. The idea is to dump any and every thought running through your mind onto the page before you start your day. These thoughts can be self-defeating, a dream you want to remember from the night before, recounting an argument, or even a short story. While it’s possible for these thoughts to resurface, writing them down can help clear them out of your head for a while and help you start your day energized and refreshed.
2 Keep a running to-do list. Have you ever finished the day and realized you didn’t check off even one item from your to-do list? Talk about feeling unproductive and stressed out! This is where the running to-do list comes in. When your day takes an unexpected turn and you can’t accomplish your intentional tasks, add those unintentional tasks to the to-do list and then check them off as completed. This can include anything from unclogging the garbage disposal to an unexpected phone call that lasted much longer than you’d hoped. This gives you the double satisfaction of checking off the item as well as admiring your long list of completed tasks at the end of the day to remind you how productive and organized you are—go you!
3 Start a gratitude list. This has also been called a “like list.” It is, in essence, a list of all that you are grateful for. You can buy a journal specifically for this list, use sticky-notes, or even write on an erasable white board, depending on if you want to keep a running list or start a new one each day. Though I’ve had no luck discovering the exact origin of the gratitude list, it’s been gaining in popularity for the past few years, largely because studies have found that writing about positive experiences and thoughts can actually make you happier.
4 Create a bubble chart for your current mood. It may not seem like writing, but it is! Many writers employ the bubble chart method to come up with themes and ideas for their writing projects. They are a simple and effective way to tap into your subconscious and find out what you’re truly thinking and feeling. For instance, if you’re feeling generally sad, grab a piece of paper and write down: “sad.” Circle it and then extend lines around that circle. At the end of each of those lines, write down any words that come to mind based on the initial word. Perhaps it’s a person, a place, another feeling—anything that will help you dig deeper into that feeling. Then you can even make bubble charts off of those bubbles until you feel you’ve gotten to the root of your mood. As an added mood-booster, you can crumple up the paper and throw it away.
5 Start your memoir. I know, I know. But you’re not a writer or you haven’t lived long enough or you have no desire to write about yourself. BUT. Everyone has a story. Even if you write about your life exclusively in your morning pages or throw the pages away after writing them down, try it. Transforming your experiences into a written story form can help you process what is happening in your life, reflect on certain people or circumstances, and ultimately make sense of it all. Many memoirists have touted its healing power and, who knows, it could even end up being healing for other people (think Wild by Cheryl Strayed or Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert).
Writing plays a key role in how we communicate with others. But it can also play a key role in how we communicate with ourselves. So the next time you’re stressed out, feeling on the verge of a breakdown, or just plain unhappy, try one of the above writing strategies to help figure out what you need to take care of yourself.
Melissa Bloom is a writer, coach, and yoga instructor passionate about exploring the connection between productivity and wellness. Learn more about her and her services at: www.mindfulwriter.com