How Does Writing Help Us Heal?

Does it sometimes feel as though your thoughts are like a thousand out-of-control driverless express trains simultaneously zipping through a labyrinth of tiny tunnels in your mind?

If so, you’re not alone.

People whose eating is emotion-driven often describe themselves as “overthinkers” – they’re so consumed by their thoughts that eating is the only way they find respite from the turmoil in their heads (that and going to sleep).

But how do you start making sense of your thoughts when they’re whizzing by so fast you can’t grab hold of any of them? Where do you even begin?

In my experience, the best way is to get a paper and a pen and start writing.

Writing allows you to vent your anger safely, acknowledge your fears and aspirations, and achieve vital insights.

Writing cuts through the confusion and disrupts the cycle of chaos. Just getting words out of your head and onto paper helps those trains to slow down so you can begin to work out what’s going on inside you.

Most importantly, if reaching for food is a way of avoiding a relationship with yourself, then writing down your thoughts and feelings is a great way to reconnect.

For that very reason you’ll no doubt feel resistant to the idea, but you can tell the part of you that’s avoiding to back off and let you get on with it. Writing allows you to vent your anger safely, acknowledge your fears and aspirations, and achieve vital insights. As a result, it helps you feel better, pose important questions and understand yourself.

But you don’t just have to take my word for it.

I’d like to turn to some of my fellow bloggers to show you what I mean. I really hope you follow the links to their posts – none of them are very long and all of them illustrate beautifully what I’m talking about.

Writing Helps You Feel Better

In her post “Decisions and Deadlines”, Cristy at mexi minnesota investigates her struggle to make a big decision about her career.

“My soul has already made the decision”, she says but she has yet to take action. Notice how she identifies in the moment the beneficial effect writing is having on her: “Just writing out that decision has helped my body relax and given me some determination to move forward”, she notes.

Writing Helps You Ask Important Questions

Sometimes it’s not so much about finding the answer as it is about just asking the question.

Rory at A Guy Called Bloke demonstrates this in an entry on his “Dear Blog” feature in which he explores his feelings about his Dad having terminal cancer. He repeatedly asks himself the question “How do I feel about my Dad dying?”. He doesn’t have the answer, but that’s not the point – the point was he needed to ask himself the question.

Writing Helps You Understand Yourself

Merri at the Binge-Free Blog often shares illuminating excerpts from her journal such as this one from her post “The Bathing Suit Test” in which she examines her struggle with body acceptance.

Although she had difficulty writing because her mind was preoccupied with thoughts of “losing weight and looking my best”, she manages to explore her feelings, finally concluding “I am okay just the way I am”.

Keeping a journal is not about being a good writer or even about enjoying writing. You don’t have to write every day, it doesn’t have to be perfect and you don’t have share it. It doesn’t even have to be a journal – you can write on the back of an envelope, an old shopping list or a pile of receipts. The important thing is that you’re writing and forging a relationship with yourself.

I know for certain that I would never have managed to resolve my overeating issues without writing regularly.

Writing is deeply personal expression of self-care and self-acceptance, and can help to heal a lifetime of self-neglect. The message you’re sending is “I value myself enough to sit down and write about my thoughts and feelings because I deserve my attention”.

As a typical angsty teenager in the 1980’s, I often attempted to keep a journal.

I fancied myself as a modern-day Samuel Pepys but instead of writing about The Great Fire of London or the Restoration of the Monarchy, I was writing perfectly formed sentences about why Duran Duran were better than Spandau Ballet (they were) or which member of the Breakfast Club I most wanted to hang out with (Ally Sheedy).

My journal now resembles the fervent scrawlings of an eccentric scientist attempting to invent a formula to solve a particularly baffling equation. And, yes, sometimes I look back and think “what the hell was I on about?”  But it doesn’t matter. It’s an indication of where I was at the time and, more importantly, that I’ve moved on. I know for certain that I would never have managed to resolve my overeating issues without writing regularly.

So if you’re serious about healing your relationship with food and yourself, and you want to move forward – start writing.

At some point, and perhaps for the first time in your life, you may feel something within you breathe a sigh of relief as if to say “Thank you. I feel heard”.

©️ Julie de Rohan 2018.

29 thoughts on “How Does Writing Help Us Heal?

  1. Hi Julie, great post with some really powerful insights. And thanks for all the signposts you’ve included. I already get a lot of value from Cristy’s posts over at Mexi Minnesotana but wasn’t familiar with Merri over at Binge-Free Blog and she had a great post regarding wearing of a bathing suit! Enjoy your Sunday, Lxx. P.S. Spot on re Duran Duran and Ally Sheedy!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have to say I was spoilt for choice on WordPress as to which blogs to feature – it really is a treasure trove of people sharing their thoughts and feelings – I just felt these three posts summed up what I was trying to say. Many thanks for your comment, Lorraine, glad we’re on the same page about Duran Duran and The Breakfast Club!

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  2. Writing stuff down is a great way to release your thoughts and make sense of it even if it’s for no one else to read. It’s hugely therapeutic! Thank you for blog suggestions too 😊

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  3. Excellent post! I have the opposite problem with food when my brain takes off, and completely lose my appetite. Different results but no better for your health.

    Writing is SO therapeutic, I keep trying to get my mom to keep a journal but she has such a block about writing that she won’t even try. Next best thing, I’m going to write her memories for her and maybe that will spur her to write a bit on her own. The best thing about becoming comfortable with calling myself a writer in this new chapter, is that all three of my children have begun writing fiction. My 9 year old has to crawl in with me because she scares herself writing her ghost stories. 🤣🤣🤣 Writing is how we make sense of our thoughts, even when we’re playing them out with other characters. I only wish I had freed myself to write decades ago – besides my angsty teenage journals, that is. 😉 This was a great post, and I look forward to checking out some of the blogs you linked to. Thanks! 💕

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. What a lovely thing to do for your Mum and it’s so great to hear about your children and their writing – I agree that any writing helps us make sense of our ourselves, be it fiction, poetry or just a written rant in the moment. I’m interested to read that you wish you had allowed yourself to write a long time ago – what made you start when you did?

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      1. I had a dream – haha! Sounds stupid but it’s true. I wrote about it on my blog “Writing:From Phobia to Freedom”. Before that, even though intellectually I knew I could just write for myself, I was as self-conscious as my mom is. I think some people have a block about writing similar to that about math. makes me miss teaching so much!

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      2. I don’t think that sounds stupid at all! I just checked out that post and I want to share it here because it’s really inspiring:
        You’ve really got me thinking about blocks to writing and what that’s about – certainly with many of my clients it’s about avoiding feelings and a relationship with the self but I wonder if it’s something else, as you say, like a Maths block (I definitely have that) where people feel they just can’t do it. Many thanks for your comment, Amanda.

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  4. Wow, Julie, you have hit the nail in the head here. Not only am I thankful for your link to my blog, but I realize that in wanting to help others overcome their struggles with food, the person I have helped the most by writing, is myself. Thanks for your great article! (And yes, I write on whatever I can find, keeping notes in an app on my phone. But when that’s not available I write on store receipts, napkins envelopes, junk mail, just about anything!)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I was pretty sure this post would resonate with you! Like you, I scribble on anything I can get my hands on if I’m not near my journal or notebook. I don’t keep notes on my phone but I know lots of people who do – so handy as we generally always have our phones with us. For me, the physicality of writing with a pen on paper is so therapeutic which is why I don’t type my journal on my laptop. Thank you for your comment, Merri.

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  5. This is a great read! I consider myself an over thinker. My mind has way too many thoughts, and these thoughts sometimes hinder me from doing something great. I tend to convince myself that something is bad even if that something is actually good. And so to cope with this, I started to write maybe three years ago. And it was a nice outlet, however, school started to become more demanding, hence the the three-year hiatus. Not only that, my ever non-existing self esteem has made me struggle in getting words out. I felt like my writing was not good enough. So for the years that’s gone by, I have relapsed to being an OVER over thinker. Deciding, I’m not going down this road again, I started writing. I’m still trying to find my groove in writing. But yeah, writing, indeed, helps me tame and make sense of the chaos that is my mind. 🙂

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    1. I was so moved reading your comment, thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sorry to hear that you struggle with low self-esteem – it makes it so difficult to believe that what you write is good enough or that you are good enough – I can relate to this from my own experience. I’m really happy to hear that you’re writing again, my hope is that you can start to believe in yourself and enjoy being who you are. I’m pleased this post struck a chord with you and I’m very grateful for your feedback, thank you.

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  6. Julie, thank you so much for the blog mention! And I am grateful for the reference to Merri at the Binge-Free blog. I could truly relate to the her post on The Bathing Suit Test and will follow her blog as well. Writing is indeed an act of clarifying for so many of us, and getting that “brain chatter” out on a screen or a keyboard help us sort through the sometimes conflicting thoughts and feelings. So grateful for this post. I hope it’s okay if I share/re-blog for my Tuesday post this week. Mil gracias, Amiga!

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    1. You’re very welcome, Cristy. Thank you for the excellent post that brilliantly illustrated my point. Of course it’s absolutely fine to share, thank you, and thanks for your comment.

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  7. Julie, this is a powerful and insightful post. I think that, for some of us at least, we tend to internalize so much and so often that our bodies become time bombs of stress ready to explode at the least provocation. We keep all of these emotions about work and family and self and life-in-general all packed together and how on earth can we deal with any of it when it’s all merged into one enormous mass? Writing helps to untangle the mass and begin the sorting process. Once you sort, you can move on to understanding and then to mending. I’ve always kept journals on and off throughout my life but haven’t in recent years ~ when I needed that outlet the most. When I found myself in bed night after night with screams forming in my throat, I knew I had to take action. Writing has given me a voice again. Even if I am the only reader of my work. I LOVE THIS: “Writing is deeply personal expression of self-care and self-acceptance, and can help to heal a lifetime of self-neglect. The message you’re sending is “I value myself enough to sit down and write about my thoughts and feelings because I deserve my attention”.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You articulate your experience so well, Jayne – I think many people will relate to the enormous, tangled mass you describe, I know I do. It’s funny how, when we need ourselves the most, we tend to abandon ourselves – writing is a way to bring us back. I’m so glad you’ve found writing again and that it’s given you a voice once more. Thank you so much for your comment, Jayne, it’s really good to hear your thoughts.

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