Anxiety is a natural response that is there for our benefit. It is very unpleasant for a purpose: to compel us to take action to ensure our survival. We experience anxiety because of a release of stress hormones.
Short-term anxiety is useful and necessary to escape danger. However, when the levels of stress hormones are elevated for a sustained period of time, it threatens to take its toll on your body, with a risk of elevated blood pressure, poor sleep and even your immune system being compromised. Gaining separation from our anxious thoughts is key strategy in managing anxiety, and expressive writing is a tactic that you can work on by yourself almost anywhere.
What is Expressive Writing?
Expressive writing is an exercise to separate us from our stress response, where you write down your thoughts, positive or negative, and immediately destroy them. Research has demonstrated that expressive writing has a beneficial effect on the immune system.
I have recently been following the work of David Hanscom, an orthopedic surgeon who has written at length, on how the mind can greatly affect our perception of pain, both physical as well as mental. He describes the process as:
‘…writing down your thoughts and then instantly destroying them. Begin by writing down specific thoughts. They can be positive or negative, rational or irrational. Don’t worry about making sense or even being legible. This creates a space between you and your thoughts on the paper.
As you write, focus on the physical sensations you are experiencing, as this helps create new neurological connections. Don’t analyze your thoughts. It’s counterproductive to keep these as a journal. When you rip up the pages that you’ve written, your brain then associates the space you’ve created as a physical separation from your thoughts. This allows your nervous system to calm down, and your pain symptoms to lessen.’
This of course is not a comprehensive approach to dealing with all of your anxiety, but why not spend just 5- 10 minutes a day, this week to see how it works for you. Like all things that are good for us that easy to do… they are also easy not to do!