Writing As a Way of Healing

Creative activities like drawing, painting, and listening to or performing music can help to reduce stress during difficult times. What you may not know is that writing can reduce anxiety and boost resilience, too. Writing your thoughts in a journal—for example, about how you’re feeling, what you’re hoping for, or any thoughts that you’re holding inside—can help relieve some of your worries.

When I sat by my thirteen-year-old daughter’s hospital bedside for nearly one year, I was overwhelmed by her multitude of diagnoses and life-threatening conditions. Seeing my daughter in pain and suffering from the aftereffects of chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiation treatments was devastating. Somehow, I had to stay strong for my daughter during the day, but when night approached, I couldn’t abate my fears.

So, I picked up my pen and wrote in a journal that a friend had given to me. I wrote of my anxiety, my trepidations, my hopes, and of her small victories. Writing allowed me to shed some of the unbearable burdens that I was carrying and mark some positive milestones. And after my child’s death, when I was in a maelstrom of grief, expressing my devastation through writing gave me a measure of relief and whispers of hope that I would recover one day.

I do understand that any activity when you are mourning can seem overwhelming, but it’s worth a try to write for even ten to fifteen minutes a day. Not only did writing lift some of my burdens, there is a growing body of evidence that writing about a medical trauma can improve a person’s physical and psychological outcomes.

If you are writing in a journal for the first time, you may want some guidance about how to begin. Writing prompts like these can help:

  • Just Write! Put pen to paper and write. Write anything. Don’t lift your hand off the paper. If you need to write “just write” over and over, do so. Before too long, your thoughts will emerge and you’ll write them down.
  • Who gives you comfort and support?
  • Have family, friends, and/or your community supported you in ways that you couldn’t have imagined before?
  • What do you do to find some comfort and strength? Examples to consider: write in a journal, walk with a friend, listen to music, go to a movie.
  • What new activities do you think will help you to cope? Examples might be attending support groups, therapy with pets, reading.
  • If you could have more support, what would it be?
  • If you have a few more free hours in a week, what would you do?
  • Have you grown (emotionally, creatively, spiritually) after your child’s death? If so, how?
  • What important life lessons have emerged after the death of your child?

Writing has the potential to help you to cope better during the most stressful times and during the grieving process. It should be noted, however, that writing is not a substitute for counseling; rather, it can be a valuable addition to counseling.

At the beginning of this new year, try something new. Pick up your pen and write—and help yourself at the same time, too.

Faith Fuller Wilcox

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