Something amazing happens when you sit in a quiet space and give yourself time to put pen to paper. Whether that writing process results in a letter to a friend or a note to yourself, there is no denying that the benefits of writing can be as therapeutic as a great massage or as cathartic as a conversation with a good friend or trained counsellor.

Handwriting is especially useful. That on-the-spot flow of thoughts into indelible words on paper has a powerful effect on your brain. For instance, studies show that writing boosts creativity and improves memory and retention. Handwriting also helps to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. It helps with learning and comprehension, even where learning disabilities exist. In addition, handwriting enhances your focus and improves your prioritization skills.

These are the reasons why we use journaling in our mental health skill-building work at the Untold Stories Studio. Aside from the close connection between journaling and lived experience storytelling, we emphasize journaling as an ongoing practice because the act of sitting in a quiet space to write whatever comes to mind helps to strengthen emotional function while processing experiences and events.  

It is especially worth noting that although handwriting offers a space for privacy, journaling can be adapted into creative activities that can help you process emotions and events without reactivating original feeling in a destructive or damaging way. As described in this article, taking an abstract approach to journal writing, as opposed to directly surfacing and tangling with deeply held emotions and thoughts, can lead to more creative and effective release of emotional distress.

We offer opportunities for this kind of creative and effective emotional release in the Journal Together sessions at the Untold Stories Studio. Our process of using a unique, research-driven prompts, followed by time for private handwriting and then an optional sharing period, is the hallmark of our community approach to using journal writing as a tool for recovering mental and emotional health.

We know that this approach to journaling takes time and practice. We also know that it works and that our session participants are moved towards a better understandings about their stressors and that they leave our sessions with an appreciation of what they can do to change their responses.

For instance, in one recent journaling session, I invited participants to reflect on a journal prompt about feelings of stress and anxiety in the lived body and to write about it privately as journal notes. It was in that session that one participants spontaneously created this poem about what it feels like to hold the weight of a stressful conversation in their lived body.

What is most relevant about this creative representation of feeling stress and anxiety in the lived body was the way that the author ended the poem. They reflected on the action their body demanded under the stressful circumstance they separated the bodily feelings of stress from their thought patterns. The act of reflecting with mindful awareness led to poem’s instinctive conclusion that points to empowerment and relational awareness.

I am extremely happy to reproduce the poem for you here, with permission. For more insightful stories and poems from everyday lived-experiencers, and to read more of the journaling and storytelling work we have been permitted to share, visit the story sharing hub tenmillionbaskets.com.

A conversation for another day.”

Stomach tight

Heart fast

Across my mind float patterns past

Vision tunneled

Tongue swollen

Not the reaction I would have chosen

Eyes glazed

Lungs yawning

I know I can’t say what I’m wanting

Jaw locked

Heart brought low

I wish I didn’t have to know

That you can’t hear me

Mind scattered

Ears rushing

Our two meanings refuse to be touching

So I need to walk away

We can try again another day

When you have the space

For me

Poem by Kristy Hourd (as originally published on TenMillionBaskets.com).