The Benefits of Expressive and Creative Writing

When we think about treatments for mental illness, our minds tend to drift towards biomedical approaches and other conventional methods. However, expressive and creative writing has been long utilized as a complimentary treatment towards medical conditions such as clinical depression. It can include personal journaling, poetry, fiction, autobiographies, and memoirs. Writing may not be a “cure-all”, but it can certainly help alleviate symptoms and serve as an enjoyable and relaxing activity.  

Why Expressive and Creative Writing?  

Several studies conducted in the past have shown significant contrasts between people with depression who were asked to write about completely different things. Those who were asked to write about traumatic events and their deepest thoughts and feelings showed improvement in their conditions, while those who were asked to write about trivial topics including daily events had symptoms persisting many weeks after the experiment.  

Expressive and creative writing can help you overcome emotional obstacles and 
acknowledge your feelings without downplaying them. The thoughts in your head that may have been overwhelming you can become more manageable once you put them on paper, allowing you to have a sense of control and empowerment. Once your mind is freed from bothersome thoughts, there is room for you to learn more about yourself and move forward.  

Tips on How to Get Started 

  1. Try to write on a regular basis. Ideally, you would want to write every day for at least twenty minutes. If that threshold is a little too high, start by setting aside 5 minutes each day and then slowly build your way up! 
  1. Write about whatever you want. This is your safe space, so you can let your thoughts flow freely and without any restraints. Don’t worry about the structure, grammar, spelling, or what other people might think! 
  1. Know when to put down the pen. If a topic becomes too overwhelming to write about, feel free to stop, give yourself some time, and then choose a new topic to write about.  
  1. If you don’t know what to write about, search up a prompt! Writer’s block happens to many of us. Here are a few prompts to help you get started: 
    – What is something that is worrying you right now? 
    – Make a list of the people you trust the most.  

Remember to write when you are ready. Expressive and creative writing may not be for everyone, but you never know until you try! Start slowly and take your time. You may discover something about yourself that you never knew about before.  

Check out these articles to learn more about the benefits of expressive and creative writing:

rtor.org – How Writing Can Improve Your Mental Health  
Harvard Health Publishing – Expressive writing for mental health  
Janine Ripper – Here’s How to Use Expressive Writing for Depression

Author: Debi Jin
Editor: Zac Lo
Researcher: Debi Jin