Here are some tips from personal experience that I would like to share here for others who wish to try writing to help deal with the stresses of daily life. Here, I tell what some people do (and which I have done, personally), and I give my method and advice, as well as telling in which ways each method might be beneficial for a less stressful life or for problem resolution. Please pay attention to the disclaimer at the end – I am no expert, and I only know what has worked for me. These things may be useful and helpful for others, and so I choose to share, but please do not fault me if they don’t work for you – each of us is a different person, and some things work for one person that do not work for another. Here are the ways in which I have used – and have known others to use – writing therapy:
Some people write only when they are having a bad day. If you are having a bad day, consider writing about your day and see if it helps. Writing may not be able to talk back to you or give you good advice, but it can reveal things you didn’t even realize you were thinking and help you arrive at ideas for solutions to the issues you have related to paper – if only by helping you understand the problem(s) a little better. If you feel up to it, afterward, perhaps write something that is lighter – what were the good points of your day? Did you notice anything beautiful?
Some people keep a journal of sorts and write something about their day, every day. This can be helpful especially on looking back to see your progression and growth over time, as well as helping you to release pressures and stresses as they occur in your life. This can help lead toward the resolution of problems, as writing about them forces the writer to examine these problems and the writer’s thoughts more closely. Consider writing something light after every session. This can help to balance out your emotions afterward so that you are not stuck in a gloomy state of mind. It doesn’t have to be anything all that great – maybe you saw a nice tree, or a pretty sunset, or a perfect flower bloom. Perhaps you saw the cutest dog while out on a walk. Just pick something more positive and write a paragraph about it – it will help you to avoid feeling like you are in a negative frame of mind afterward.
Some people simply write poetry. If you are looking to get out negative emotions, I suggest writing a poem about how you feel. But be sure to write something lighter-hearted afterward, or the gloom of writing the darkness will stay with you. Therefore, when you write one poem, perhaps make it a rule to write two – one dark, one light – to perk you up afterward.
Some people write stories. If you write a story in third-person (in other words, about someone who is not you) and you put this character through some of the things you have gone through and force them to resolve their issues, sometimes there will be a breakthrough of insight regarding how you can change your own outcomes. If nothing else, even without that insight, it is a way to release pent up frustrations while maintaining a certain amount of distance from it – as the character isn’t you, it doesn’t have to be your story.
Again, I recommend writing about something lighter afterward – perhaps a little blog post about your favorite foods, flowers, shopping items – whatever suits you. As with some other therapies, the quality of the story may not be the focus – the exercise, itself, is what does you good. By this reasoning, you would still have benefited from it even if you scrap the story afterward. With writing for therapy, it is the process that matters, not the outcome relating to what has been written, itself. So, you might not be the next J.K. Rowling – that’s okay. Don’t be hard on yourself. That is not the aim of this exercise. Besides, the more you do it, the more your skill at it will grow.
Some people write letters. These letters don’t have to ever leave your hand. You can shred them or burn them afterward (I suggest shredding over burning – I don’t want to be blamed for your house-fire), but the act of writing them out can help to release pent up frustration or anger at another person and get the passionate emotions out of the way. This makes it so that afterward, you can talk to the person about the thing that made you so upset in a calm and reasonable manner. The letter gives you more control over yourself, as you have essentially created and put to use a very effective emotional-release valve. Sometimes one letter is not enough, such as when you are extremely angry or upset. You may need to write several letters before you start to feel calm. Get it out. After you have written the letter(s), and before talking to the person who you have been angry at or upset with, expend some energy. Go for a walk, to the gym, out for a hike, or take a swim – something to blow off more steam and help you to find your center – your balance. Do not talk to the person until you know you can do so calmly. When you are ready, write a nice letter and treat it the same way you did the angry letter – shred it or burn it. This is not for them – as with the other forms of writing, here, these are for your eyes – these are for self-control and for releasing tension. And even a nice letter has an effect on the writer. The nice letter doesn’t have to be to the same person you wrote the angry letter to, but writing something positive will help you feel even better.
Some people make lists. They list all of the options for a particular problem they are struggling with. Sometimes, they even draw maps with the central issue in a circle in the middle and all of the options and possible repercussions of those options in circles that are tied to the center circle by lines. Another kind of map can look the same way, but have the desired outcome in the center and the obstacles to be eliminated in the surrounding bubbles. Either method can be useful for refining options, tackling obstacles, and helping with choice-making.
Lists can also be great for creating goals, not just for balancing and weighing pros and cons relating to a choice. If you make lists of goals, keep them where you can see them, and brainstorm for steps you can take to help you reach those goals. Focus on one at a time, and do not be discouraged by slow progress. Baby steps are the way many of us get through life, so try to be patient with yourself. Making lists can also help you get organized. If you are a person who feels that your life is messy, lists are a way that can help you focus. Try to make at least your end-focus positive, if you have included negative things you wish to get rid of in your lists.
Remember that these ways of dealing with problems should not feel like self-punishment or chastisement. Do not use them to beat yourself over the head for past mistakes or current ones. You deserve good things in life and to be happy, so in every way you can, make that the end goal. If you have issues with talking negatively to yourself during these exercises, keep a timer handy, time the exercise, and then spend the exact same amount of time afterward telling yourself good things – affirmations, and that you love yourself. Even if you don’t mean them at first, your soul needs to hear good things, and you will learn to mean them, through repetition.
You should not allow yourself to say negative things to yourself and cast judgments and then just leave it at that. While I would like to say to never say negative things to yourself, I understand that these things may be habit and hard to break – these things take time. Growth and healing take time. So if you find yourself doing this, be sure to follow up and balance those self-criticisms with positive things. List your strengths, look for the beauty that is in you. Work on limiting the number of negative things you say about yourself and increasing the number of positive things you can say to yourself. And remember that even slow progress is progress.
As you can see by all of the examples I have given, I highly suggest releasing negativity first and following up with something positive. This will help to prevent you from developing a dislike for writing. It is a useful tool to help maintain equilibrium and to help in healing, and if you develop a dislike for it, that is one less tool in your arsenal to help yourself. These are all my opinions, and I am not an expert, but I have been writing for stress relief for my entire teenage and adult life. Please take all advice here with a grain of salt, and I reiterate that I am not an expert. Still, these things may be helpful for some people. They are, and have been, for me.