Tag Archives: stress

The healing power of creative writing

Writing can be therapeutic even when it appears to have nothing at all to do with the events of our lives. Here’s how.  

In my last post I was talking about the healing power of dreams to ground us physically and emotionally when we get over-stressed and too much ‘in our head.’ Since then, I’ve been to a Lapidus workshop in Bristol which has made me want to share my thoughts on the healing power of creative writing.

Lapidus - 'words for well-being'
Lapidus – ‘words for well-being’

Lapidus is an organisation for writing therapists; it includes mental health practitioners who use creative writing within their clinical practice and authors who teach writing in non-clinical settings as a route to greater understanding of the self and the world.

Some of the wonderful books on offer at the Lapidus conference
Some of the wonderful books on offer at the Lapidus conference

Most of the Lapidus workshops I’ve attended have involved writing about our real-life personal experiences, and they have felt rather like counselling sessions, where the theoretical base seems to be about moving towards catharsis or reframing difficult life events or relationships.

One of the great tools of writing therapy is ‘journaling.’ This is a regular practice of personal writing reflecting on personal insights, day-to-day experiences, dreams and inspirations; it’s pretty much what my dream-diaries have evolved into over the years and I can highly recommend it.

But creative writing doesn’t have to be autobiographical in order to be therapeutic. Every poem or piece of fiction we write connects us to our authentic emotions, like the sad dream I was talking about in my last post; it takes us beyond the narrow limits of what we are capable of understanding about ourselves and releases us into the wide, fast flow of emotional and imaginal experiences that make us who we are.

Do you keep a writing journal? Or have you experienced the healing power of writing in other ways? I love to hear about your thoughts and experiences

How can a really sad dream be a really good thing?

A sad dream can make you feel out of sorts all through the following day, but it may be Nature’s way of helping you to cope with stress. Here’s how it worked for me.

As I mentioned in my last post back in July, I decided to take the whole of August off, and headed North for four glorious weeks living mostly under canvas. All that fresh air and freedom… when the time came, I did not want to come back.

Paddling across to Oransay from Colonsay at low tide with Barbara Gay from New Zealand. Fun!
Paddling across to Oransay from Colonsay at low tide with Barbara Gay from New Zealand. Fun!

I had been redrafting 24:7 right up until the day before I went on holiday, so I arrived home to a messy house and a garden full of weeds, as well as a stack of paperwork in my study that I had been putting off for months.

Top of my to-do list was my tax return. Enough said. Two days of hair-tearing and tedium.

Second was my self-publishing venture, a new e-book edition of Help your child to handle bullying, which I had abandoned back in June. Everything about it made me feel anxious, and there were endless technical problems with the formatting that had to be ironed out (thank-you draft2digital – you were very patient)

Even deciding which endorsement to use on the cover was stressful
Even deciding which endorsement to use on the cover was stressful

Frazzled and still fed up about not being still on holiday, I moved on to seeking copyright permissions for the forty or so quotes I want to use in my child-of-the-heart book, ‘Writing in the House of Dreams.’ This entailed days and days of tracking down publishers and agents, writing emails and filling in lengthy forms.

More stress. Would I be able to trace all the copyright holders? Would they grant permission? Would they demand a fee I couldn’t afford?

And what was the best way of producing the book and bringing it to market? Alongside seeking permissions I began doing research, which turned up a bewildering array of possibilities. I opened discussions, asked questions, discovered even more possibilities. More stress.

All the time, I was aware of the other things on the list, including coming back to my blog. I decided to quit the team on girlsheartbooks, where I’d been blogging once a month, and thought about taking this one down.

There were lots of lovely things on the calendar, as usual, those first weeks home from my holiday, but I was still cross about being back at work and stressed out by all the things I had to get through on my list.

'The Taming of the Shrew' by an all-female cast at the Minack theatre - one of the lovely things on the calendar
‘The Taming of the Shrew’ by an all-female cast at the Minack theatre – one of the lovely things on the calendar

Then one morning I woke up in tears, from a really, really sad dream. I don’t remember now what it was about, just that the sadness carried over into the day. I lost the will to start work, or the energy to stick at it. I read a bit, walked a bit, sat in the garden. Sighed and cried. Watched the birds.

That night, I slept better than I had for weeks and woke up feeling calm and clear, like the rain-washed sky after a storm.

Stress, like drink and drugs, can be an avoidance of ‘legitimate suffering.’ Life is hard sometimes, as well as wonderful, and one way of coping is by shutting the feelings out.

When you’re stressed, your whole focus is in your head; you spiral up into thoughts and ideas about what you should be doing, and push yourself so hard that you have no time to think about anything else.

Dreams connect you with your emotions, whether they are sad, frightening or euphorically happy ones. When you’re spiralling into stress and stuck in your head, it may take a very powerful dream that spills over into your waking life to slow you down and bring you back into your heart and body.

Instead of letting myself wallow as I had wanted to when I got home from my amazing holiday, I decided to ‘pull myself together’ and ‘stop being silly’ and get on with what needed to be done. My dream forced me to feel the feelings I had been avoiding.

Coming back to my blog after, as it’s turned out, two months away, feels really lovely. I’ve given it a new look, which I hope you’ll like, and got lots of lovely articles planned which I’m looking forward to writing.

The list can wait.

Have you ever had a dream that’s brought you down or lifted you up when you really needed it? I love to hear your thoughts and comments.