In the AllSwell journaling workshops I lead, I’ve repeatedly said that stories are medicine. By sharing your experiences you may be providing helpful mirrors and reference points for others, making us all feel a little less alone. That’s in part why literature can be so impactful. Writer Anne Lamott put it beautifully:
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
It can be immensely healing to unburden yourself, but we seem to have reached a tipping point in this digital age facilitated by the social media over-share. I call it “vulnerability porn” and it makes me a little sad when I see it.
Often, the more personal the divulgence, the greater the response, creating a kind of emotional strip-tease, shedding layer after layer.
I want to wrap the storyteller in a blanket and remind them quietly and gently that their worth is in no way determined by the alluring validation of likes and comments.
While I applaud transparency and self-expression, some personal excavations and intimate moments are more meaningful when they are private. You aren’t packaging them for a third-party reader or seeking a response. You are giving yourself the gift of letting the experience unfold and taking the time for a perspective to come into focus.
And that’s where journaling comes in.
We all need to process our experiences — being human can be really challenging — and doing it publicly is one legitimate forum… but it’s not always the one that best serves us.
Putting experiences down on paper is healing, cathartic, and has a surprisingly wide range of benefits. Journaling will probably not save your life — but at the same time, it just might save your life. And it will unquestionably improve it.
I’m a life-long journaler, but it wasn’t until I started AllSwell that I dug into the significant body of research about the upside of putting pen to paper. It speeds wound healing, it strengthens your T-Lymphocytes (basically, your immune system), it curbs asthma, helps cure PTSD… the list goes on. Moreover, it can help you be more fully present and craft a life that is uniquely your own.
And before you understandably bemoan adding yet another item to your long self-care list, the good news is that you cannot do this wrong.
You don’t need a special outfit, a potion, or powder. Just crack open a notebook, grab a pen, and go.
If you’re struggling with where to begin, I suggest keeping it simple with a 4 x 4 x 4 program: write for 4 minutes a day, aim for 4 days a week, and try to stick with it for 4 weeks. Fall off the wagon? Don’t sweat it. Just pick it back up and keep going. No journaling guilt necessary.
If you’re feeling blocked by that blank sheet of paper, try using a writing prompt. I like to flip to a random page in one of my favorite books of poetry, read what’s there, and use that as a jumping off point. Alternatively, you can explore The Deck, which I created with psychiatrist Dr. Monisha Vasa. Each card includes a “Write” and a “Draw” prompt. Shuffle them up, pick a card and see what emerges.
You don’t need to be a writer or an artist. It’s about trying something new, spending time with yourself, and tapping into your own creative voice (trust me, you have one). Reserve criticism. Give yourself permission to make stuff and let it flow.
So next time you’re on the verge of a break-through (or even a break-down), pick up a pen. See how it feels to write it out in a less noisy forum, and, in the process save a piece of yourself for yourself.
Laura Rubin is the Founder of AllSwell Creative. Get in touch with her on Instagram at @lauralrubin / @allswellcreative or on her website at allswellcreative.com.