Can writing letters help manage stress?
April is Stress Awareness Month, and has been held each year since 1992, "to raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern-day stress epidemic." (Stress Management Society, 2023). So, when looking for ways to manage our daily stress, can writing help?
Short answer - yes!
Journaling and writing letters to yourself have become heralded and encouraged in recent years as part of promoting our own emotional and mental well-being, and there is plenty of evidence to support this. It’s a simple way of being able to honestly express our thoughts and feelings, without fear of judgement from others. It can be a good way of getting thoughts out of our heads and onto paper, helping us release a mental hold on things that we have no control over. It can help us process difficult emotions, such as anger, frustration and pain, and explore where they are rooted. It’s a good way to slow down your thought process and allows time to engage with those thoughts and emotions in an intentional way.
Here are some benefits of writing a letter to yourself:
Reduces anxiety and lifts mood - by breaking the cycle of rumination on thoughts, and can improve acceptance of negative emotions. Using expressive writing can help process traumatic experiences. Using a gratitude journal can help us move to a more positive mindset by focusing on what brings us comfort.
Helps us move to a place of acceptance about past events, moving away from self-judgement. I found this hugely helpful when writing my first book - I could write about experiences and events with a degree of distance from them. I could view them from a different perspective, and could explore my thoughts and feelings around them more objectively. It was a way for me to put down on paper those feelings and leave them there, meaning that although the events still brought up feelings of sadness, the raw distress was left on the paper and not carried in my head.
Reflection gives us some distance between us and a difficult event, leaving room for exploration of feelings, and a way of looking at where we are now and what the future looks like. Writing letters to my younger self gave me the opportunity to be kind to myself - for years I had berated myself for decisions I had made, but by taking that step back, I was able to show myself the compassion I deserved and show my younger self some kindness and love, and gratitude; without her, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today. She kept going, through some really difficult times
Using affirmations, quotes and positive self-talk in our writing can help us shift away from berating ourselves to a place of recognising we are doing the best we can. These can be called letters of self-love, as the intention is to build yourself up. You can look at your achievements and activities through a lens of appreciation. It can help develop self-kindness and move away from negative self-talk.
Letter-writing can also be beneficial in letting go of held emotions related to past events or relationships. You can write directly to that other person, knowing that you can lay all your cards on the table and be truly honest, without fear of their response - you can be angry and tell them exactly how the situation made you feel, or you can simply express sadness over a broken relationship, for example. The great thing about this is that you can choose what happens to the letter (I have burned many letters in my time), and it feels like such a huge release to have the words out and away from you.
A final way in which I use letter-writing is to connect with my future (older, wiser) self. Sometimes, this is to ask for guidance, to lay things out in the open as if you were talking to a close friend. You can express your hopes and wishes for the future, where you hope to be. This can sometimes put things into perspective and help you see your priorities come to you from the page. It can also reveal what needs to be let go of for your hoped-for future to emerge.
Writing a letter to yourself may feel strange at first. You can also use journaling as a way of getting these thoughts onto paper. If you are more artistic, using an art journal to express your feelings is another way of working. There is no wrong way, you cannot fail or make a mistake. And it may take many letters before you feel safe in being truly honest with yourself - that’s ok too.
Have you tried writing a letter to yourself? I would love to know how it has helped you - add a comment, or drop me an email.
With much love, as always,
Anna x x