Therapeutic writing as a self care practice

When you think about therapeutic writing, you might imagine an activity where you write about deep emotions, problems or traumas. And you would be right to think that, because there’s a well-researched writing activity that can be tremendously helpful for healing and lessening symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, there’s even more to love about the benefits of writing, especially when you begin to explore writing as a self care practice.

Capturing a moment from the past is one of my favorite ways to use writing as a self care practice.

As I’ve mentioned here before, last year I began a women’s group, Wise Women Writing to Replenish and Renew, and one of our very first writing prompts was to write about a past experience when we felt replenished and renewed.

Since then, I’ve discovered that this technique almost always grounds you and quickly brings you back to yourself when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

And it doesn’t take much time. In fact, using captured moment writing as a self care practice is available to you almost anywhere, anytime. As little as ten minutes can do the the trick.

So I thought it might be helpful to share this practice, as well as an example of it from my own journal.

It’s actually quite simple to do.

First, you’ll want to choose an experience from your past that was joyful and satisfying, or something that you remember as being replenishing and renewing in some way. It’s also really important that this is an experience you wanted to have.

You can also enhance the writing further by finding a scent that reminds you of the experience, or even just a scent that you find relaxing. For me that would be the scent of lavender.

To begin, close your eyes and inhale your scent (if you’re using one), and bring to mind the feelings that you had during this captured moment. Perhaps you felt relaxed, peaceful, calm. Whatever it was, let yourself fully sink into these feelings.

Also pay particular attention to all the sensory details of the experience: the sights, sounds, textures, smells.

When you’re ready, start writing in the present tense, as if the experience is happening right now.

Write in the first person and let your pen keep flowing.

You needn’t write fast, as is sometimes recommended. Personally, when I write fast, I tend to grip my pen tightly and feel pressured and anxious.

With this kind of writing, though, flow is good. Hold your pen in a way that feels natural to you, and let it move you along the page. If it stalls, if a word doesn’t immediately come to mind, let it doodle a bit or twirl or do whatever it wants to do. Trust that the words will start to flow again.

Write for about five to ten minutes. (You may want to set a timer before you start.)

When you’re finished, take a moment to read what you’ve written.

Notice anything that particularly resonates with you, and jot down a few words about it.

And finally, read your writing out loud. Let yourself experience you giving voice to your own words, your own personal captured moment.

And voila, you’ve just begun using writing as a self care practice!

If you re-read your writing days or weeks later, you can again experience its replenishing and renewing qualities.

That’s what’s happened for me.

When I read my journal entry below, my captured moment in a redwood forest, two things happen.

Not only am I taken back to the initial replenishing and renewing experience of it years ago, but I’m also able to re-experience the replenishing and renewing benefits I got when I initially wrote about it last September.

There’s an interesting thing that can happen when you approach writing as a self care practice in this way. It seems to build upon itself, and grow exponentially.

And it does indeed have the capacity to make you feel different. It does have lasting effects.

* * * * *

I’ve never been to a redwood forest before when it’s snowing. There’s some ice in the parking lot and a slight dusting of snowflakes still on the trees. It’s enchanting, and cold. The cold rests on my nose and cheeks, working its way under my thin jacket.

And as we step on the path and into the grove I remember what someone told me once: a redwood tree loses and replaces all of its needles every year. And this soft path is cushioning my feet like there are hundreds of years of soft needles built up.

The grove smells a little different than usual, the woodsy piney scent mingling with the clear cold air. It gets darker as we go along. Overcast. We pass a few people but not many, and little by little, as I leave their voices behind and walk deeper into the forest, the sun begins to burn through the overcast sky.

I barely notice it at first but suddenly I’m rounding a bend in the trail and moving into a clearing where the sun is shining so brilliantly. And beneath it is the bright blue pacific ocean in the distance. Mysterious. Magical. Mystical. That’s what this feels like.

I don’t quite know what to make of this moment. I’m speechless.

And now I’m moving again, back along the trail, back to the parking lot. I feel different. I want this to last.

* * * * *

Writing will fill your heart if you let it. It will fill your pages and help to fill your life.

-Julia Cameron

Patty Bechtold

Patty Bechtold

I help women find their way back to their deepest wisdom when they feel like something’s missing in their lives or themselves. On my blog I write about the stories, insights, ideas, and wise words I’ve picked up along the way. Thank you for being here.