Welcome back to my third installment in my “How I Cope” series. Last week, I talked about how reading improves my anxiety disorder. The week before that, I talked about how exercise improves my anxiety disorder.
This week, we’re going to talk about one of my absolute favorite ways of coping with anxiety: writing.
It may surprise you that I haven’t always been good at writing. At least, I never thought I was particularly good at writing. It was just something you did at school because the teacher told you to do it.
In elementary and middle school, writing was a very regimented and prescriptive task; there was little room to be creative. According to these rigid standards, I was an average or below average writer.
Following an awful sophomore year of high school, I was an absolute mess. I had been diagnosed with my anxiety disorder and panic attacks, and emotionally, I was at the worst place I’ve ever been in my life.
I started therapy a few weeks before the beginning of my junior year of high school. I was in such a bad place emotionally that I didn’t trust anyone. I built up walls in order to protect myself from being hurt, and it kept me from being able to verbalize my thoughts and feelings.
Instead of giving up, my therapist (at the time) had me do something unexpected: write down my feelings in a notebook. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to work. The only reason I tried it was because I knew I had nothing left to lose.
Soon, I discovered how relaxing and therapeutic it is to write your feelings out. The more I wrote, the more I healed and fell in love with writing.
Because I wrote so much in my free time, my grades on my English papers began to improve. Soon, I started to get an “A” on almost every paper. This built up my confidence as a writer.
By the end of my junior year of high school, I had fallen in love with writing so much that I made it the focus for my Girl Scout Gold Award project. For my project, I wrote a book for general education teachers about how to accommodate students with disabilities in their classrooms. In it, I wrote a brief description of each disability, symptoms of the disability and how they would manifest in the classroom, and tips for how to reach a student who has that specific disability.
My book was an absolute hit! So many people loved it that I considered becoming a writer. Despite this, I didn’t declare my major as English until two years into college.
For me, writing provides a multitude of benefits. Here are just a few of the ways it helps me:
- It helps me to name my feelings. Sometimes, my feelings about a person or situation are so complicated that one label won’t suffice. Writing out my feelings helps me to see the person or situation in a realistic way, which, in turn, helps me to pinpoint my feelings.
- It gets my thoughts out of my head. When you have an anxiety disorder, your thoughts often race. Sometimes, you don’t even know what you feel so anxious about. Writing frees all of the thoughts that are stuck in my head; they’re on paper instead. It’s easier to deal with worries if you know exactly what you’re dealing with.
- It provides an escape. Sometimes, when you have an anxiety disorder, you just need a break. For me, that’s where fiction writing comes in. I love writing short stories and fanfiction because you get to immerse yourself in a different world. In this different world, the possibilities are endless; you get to have complete and total control.
As you can see, writing can have positive benefits on your anxiety and stress levels. It can be overwhelming, though, when you first start. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Start off small. If you want to start journaling, buy a small, thin journal first. If you want to write fiction, start with a short story. If you start off with a big project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Once you finish a smaller project, you can work your way up to a big project.
- Just write. Don’t focus on perfection right now. Focus on getting practice and making progress. Besides, the best way to improve at anything is practice.
- Write about your passions. Especially as a beginner writer, it’s easier to stick with writing when you’re writing about something that you’re passionate about. This will make writing fun, instead of a chore.
- Seek out critiquing. I know it’s sometimes nerve-wracking to have other people look at you writing, but this is the best way to improve. Your writing might make sense to you, but it might not to an outsider. The only way to know if it makes sense to other people is if other people read your writing.
- Seek out formal instruction if necessary. If you want to improve your writing quickly, consider taking a class. There are plenty of writing classes, both in-person and online, that fit into any budget. They’re all a quick Google search away.
Writing may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The most important thing is to keep writing, even when it’s hard. Even if you don’t become the next great author, writing can help you in many ways, especially with lowering your anxiety. You’ll never know how it can help you unless you try!
Do you enjoy writing? Why or why not? Leave your answer in the comments below!