thanks to Jenna Mayhew, and Caroline Macory, for submiting this wonderful guest post.
Writing your way to a mindful existence
Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the pressures of modern living? For some people, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. They live life at a fast pace, constantly rushing to meet deadlines, complete tasks and fit as much as possible into their day.
Mindfulness is a way of slowing down and paying attention to the current moment and it can provide a vital break for those leading busy, stressful lives. It helps you to concentrate your attention on the here and now. It offers a way of focusing on your breath, your thoughts and feelings and your physical sensations at the present time.
Mindfulness is more than careful observation. It is also an attitude and an approach to life. It quietly acknowledges without seeking answers or questioning motives. It doesn’t judge. It’s about exploring the present moment with curiosity.
Practising mindfulness can give you more insight into your emotions, boost your attention and concentration and improve relationships. It is proven to help with stress, anxiety, depression and addictive behaviours and can even have a positive effect on physical health problems like hypertension, heart disease and chronic pain.
Another technique that has been found to produce significant improvements to physical and emotional health is expressive writing.
Expressive writing is very simply writing about your thoughts, feelings and experiences. The purpose of expressive writing is not to find answers, but rather to sit with the experience, and change your relationship to it, by translating it into words. Language is powerful; and through writing, previously unnamed anxieties become concrete, manageable fears.
So here we have two techniques, mindfulness and expressive writing, that have both been shown to improve health and well-being and provide us with a new focus and perspective. What other characteristics do they share?
Well, both practices involve self-directed attention and encourage a heightened awareness; both generate a sense of curiosity and require a particular form of non-judgemental observation.
Both mindfulness and expressive writing are approaches that help you transform implicit and unconscious thoughts, feelings, memories and perceptions into explicit and conscious ones. They provide you with a deeper understanding of yourself and allow you the time and space to attach words to experiences and perceptions, giving them a new identity.
When you start to explore these areas of your life, regardless of the method you use, you’ll start to find some incredible changes in your life. Relationships improve, stress reduces, overall mood improves, sleep gets better and your immune system strengthens, just to name a few. Overall, you’ll start to experience better emotional, psychological, social and physical health.
Expressive writing improves your ‘mindful awareness’ by:
a) leading to increased awareness, allowing you to gain insight into feelings and thoughts that you were previously unaware of;
b) allowing you to confront your experiences safely by writing about them rather than talking, which can sometimes be more difficult.
One study found that individuals who received high mindfulness scores responded better to expressive writing. That is, if you are already ‘mindful’ or ‘mindfully aware’, you’ll get more benefit out of expressive writing than an individual with less mindfulness.
There are also particular writing exercises that can assist you to combine these two approaches – helping you to still your mind and observe yourself in the present moment through writing.
Try the mindfulness writing exercise outlined below:
Take some time out of your day and place a blank piece of paper and a pen in front of you. Observe carefully what is going on around you – the noises, the smells, the objects. Observe, but don’t let your story-telling mind take over. If you notice your mind drifting to past or future events, simply observe these thoughts, set them aside, and return to direct observation. Notice how your body feels, particularly any areas of stress or any aches and pains. Write down everything that you observe in the present moment.
Like mindfulness, writing is an activity that you can return to time and time again. Both require very little in the way of equipment or preparation, and can help you to ground yourself and regain a sense of calm. Mindfulness and writing are two very separate, yet potentially overlapping practices, both offering a welcome escape from a busy, pressure filled world.
Write As Rain is an email-based counselling and therapy service that celebrates the benefits of writing. You can email a therapist at any time, from anywhere. No appointments, no waiting, no travel and no fuss.