There are more than 200 studies that show the positive effect of writing on mental health. But while the psychological benefits are consistent for many people, researchers don’t completely agree on why or how writing helps. One theory suggests that bottling up emotions can lead to psychological distress. It stands to reason, then, that writing might increase mental health because it offers a safe, confidential and free way to disclose emotions that were previously bottled up.
However, recent studies have begun to show how an increase in self-awareness, rather than simply disclosing emotions, could be the key to these improvements in mental health. Here are three types of writing which can improve your self-awareness and, in turn, your mental health:
Self-awareness is a spectrum and, with practice, we can all improve. Writing might be particularly helpful in increasing self-awareness because it can be practised daily. Rereading our writing can also give us a deeper insight into our thoughts, feelings, behaviour and beliefs. Expressive writing
Research suggests that becoming more self-aware can be beneficial in a variety of ways. It can increase our confidence and encourage us to be more accepting of others. It can lead to higher job satisfaction and push us to become more effective leaders. It can also help us to exercise more self-control and make better decisions aligned with our long-term goals. In essence, self-awareness is being able to turn your attention inward towards the self. By turning our attention inward, we can become more aware of our traits, behaviour, feelings, beliefs, values and motivations.
Research shows that expressive writing can enhance self-awareness, ultimately decreasing depressive symptoms, anxious thoughts and perceived stress. Expressive writing is often used in therapeutic settings where people are asked to write about their thoughts and feelings related to a stressful life event. This type of writing aims to help emotionally process something difficult.
Reflective writing is regularly used in professional settings, often as a way to help nurses, doctors, teachers, psychologists and social workers become more effective at their jobs. Reflective writing aims to give people a way to assess their beliefs and actions explicitly for learning and development. Writing reflectively requires a person to ask themselves questions and continuously be open, curious and analytical. It can increase self-awareness by helping people learn from their experiences and interactions. This can improve professional and personal relationships as well as work performance, which are key indicators of good mental health. Reflective writing
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