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Writing for Mental Health

By Katie, a Writing Coach

January 2023

During the last few years, I kept hearing that writing can be a tool to improve mental health. Despite being someone who loves writing, whether it be writing creative fiction on my own or the academic writing that comes with being a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, I’ve never really thought of writing in that way. However, I’m a stressed-out and anxious individual that often struggles to maintain my mental health, so I thought I would take this blog post as an opportunity to see how I can put this passion of mine to use.

So, I decided to set myself a task for the next month: to write something small every single day, no exceptions. Specifically, to write a three-sentence story, like a tiny journal entry, about an aspect of my day or how I’m feeling. Those are the only rules that I’ve set — I want to see what strange and magical places my brain takes me in the next month and whether it helps me feel less anxious about the everyday goings-on in my life.

“Why three sentences?,” you may be asking yourself. Well, the official answer is that I want to dedicate one sentence to the beginning, middle, and end of each story. In every one, I want there to be something resembling a narrative arc. However, the second answer is also just that three sentences per day is probably the max that I can do without immediately getting burnt out. I don’t think that writing every day will be able to help my mental health if I spend the whole time feeling stressed about having to write every day.

I don’t know what to expect from this self-inflicted assignment. But, as I go, I’ll record not only my three-sentence stories, but also my general thoughts on this task. Let’s see what happens!

The notebook that I’ll be writing all my three-sentence stories in — just think of all the potential in these blank pages!

February 2023

Some of my three-sentence stories will be below (including the date they were written), and my reflections on the assignment will be in italics. I haven’t included my entries from every single day, but rather I picked out my favorites. Strap in, you’re about to get quite the personal glimpse of the inside of my brain.

February 1: When I first put my contact lens in, the rainy world around me becomes astonishingly clear. Later on, I wait at the bus stop and stare at the wet grass and bright green three-leaf clovers that light up in the rain. As I marvel at their beauty, I think to myself, “I should look more.”

On this first day, I was surprised how quickly the idea for my three-sentence story came to me. I had my idea for it before I even left my apartment, and I found myself eager to scribble it down on the way to campus. So far, so good.

February 2: I feel my shoulders tense as I’m led into a classroom that I’ve never been in before. As I sit, I wish to myself that I didn’t have waves of anxiety in new places. Maybe someday.

February 5: I let her in, then retreat to my own room. For as long as she’s here, I stay in there, trying to remain quiet. I never thought I would feel so trapped in my own home.

Before I started this assignment, I imagined myself wanting to write about small things that brought me joy. These two days surprised me because when I sat down to write, the first events that came to mind involved the negative emotions that I had experienced throughout the day. While they’re often hard to reflect upon (and even harder to post online for random strangers to read), these days served as a reminder to me that part of taking care of my mental health is thinking about the bad along with the good.

February 6: I put my book down and stare at the ceiling, just letting some time pass. The ceiling fan above me is a different color than I remembered. I can’t help but wonder to myself: did it change, or did I?

February 9: I stare at the greens in the painting: the stairs, the flowers, the walls. They remind me of a place, of a specific feeling. Then I realize — they remind me of home.

These last two entries helped remind me of the importance of reflection. While a lot of the inspiration for these short stories are coming from random, passing moments in my day, these two came from moments where I specifically sat down and thought for a longer period of time. I don’t think I would have been able to fully express the conclusions that I came to without taking that time for reflection. Guess I should set aside more time for reflecting!

February 10: I don’t have any ideas today. I just keep drawing a blank. Maybe I’ll think of something.

“Why did I do this to myself?” was on my mind this day. As the entry suggests, I was flat-out of ideas and feeling discouraged about the thought of having to reflect on my day. Sometimes these bad, uncreative days happen, and I just had to accept that. But no worries — I bounced right back.

February 12: Trix finally settles in, a warm bundle of fur sitting on top of me. She falls asleep, and soon my legs start to grow numb. But it doesn’t bother me in the least, because there’s a cat in my lap.

February 13: My mom and I got to the mall too early and decided to waste time by walking around Barnes and Noble. The two of us walk from table to table, pointing out the books we’ve read and the ones we want to read. Time flies.

February 15: I hear a gasp come from someone walking toward me, and I’m pulled out of my reverie. They approach me with bright eyes, like I’m someone they look up to and are actually excited to see. I didn’t know I was that person to them.

These last couple stories remind me of how important the people (and animals) we surround ourselves with are to our mental health. For almost three days in a row, my mood and health was marginally improved by those around me. I’m realizing that it’s vital to stop and ask myself how the people I’m surrounded by impact the way that I think and the actions that I take, whether that impact is conscious or subconscious.

February 18: To escape into another world, I flip open a book. The pages breathe a new sort of happiness into me. It is these hours that I feel truly alive.

February 21: I get called to the front of the room, and I spend far more time up there than I expected. I stumble at times, but try to be frank and honest with everyone in the class. At the end, they applaud me.

February 22: As I chop carrots, she sits on a stool behind me and tells me about everything going on in her life. As she rolls meatballs, I stand to the side and tell her about everything going on in mine. It’s been too long.

These three entries remind me that things both big and small have an effect on our mental health. Throughout this process, I felt inspired to write about the big things that shaped, made, or broke my day, but I was also inspired to write about small moments that I might have otherwise found to be inconsequential.

February 24: It has been a day of changing emotions. First, a jubilant happiness, then a resigned indifference, then the burst that comes with shock. Now, at the end of the day, I only crave silence.

This entry was a nice reminder that it’s normal to have roller-coaster days. Sometimes, it can be easy to lean into the chaos of roller-coaster days and feel overwhelmed or like I’m being overdramatic. During these times, I’m trying to remember that every emotion that I feel is valid and that it’s important to reflect on why I’m feeling the way I am.

February 27: Today, I take time to revisit something that I haven’t done in a while. As I do so, I wonder why I stopped. Am I the same person that I used to be?

In this last entry, I contemplated the changes in my life throughout the last few years — a daunting and terrifying thought for many, to be sure. Even though I wrote this story with a specific tone in mind, I realized after writing it that my tone could be interpreted in a variety of different ways, whether it be someone who is anxious about changes or excited about them. That’s the beauty in words on a screen — they can be interpreted in so many different ways and can open doors to explore new perspectives.

A full page of my notebook with some bonus entries.

March 2023

Well, the month is over, and it’s time for my final reflections. Were there times where I loved sitting down and writing my daily story? Yes. Were there also times that I sighed in exasperation and rued the day that I decided to do this activity? Yes.

But really, I do feel like my small writings helped me express how I was feeling most days. It can be easy to go without reflection or without sitting down and just thinking about my mental health (especially on busy days), but forcing myself to take some time daily to focus on me made a big difference. I feel like I became more self-aware than usual and more in tune with my own emotional state. I got better at monitoring what was good and bad about my days and what caused these changes, which helped me act more intentionally and in a way that is beneficial to my mental health. Lastly, I feel like I just learned a lot about myself and my health that I had not previously known.

This activity also helped me branch out into a genre of writing that I had never tried before — I’ve never been one to keep a journal, so this kind of expressive writing was completely new to me. I definitely found it challenging at times, especially how personal this style of writing can be. When I was picking which entries to put in this blog post, I had to filter through a lot of stories that felt super intimate to me and that I didn’t want to share with a wider audience. However, I really do love many of these more personal entries — they were emotionally difficult to write, but probably the most rewarding to reflect and read back on. They made me dig deep and find new ways to express how I was feeling, which I think not only improved my mental health but my skills as a writer. I feel like I’ve learned how to express myself in a more concise way and in language that I may not always use, which I predict will transfer to me writing academic, non-reflective pieces more succinctly. I also feel like my ability to write something impactful in a small space has improved — which should help me express my arguments in academic papers in a more powerful yet still condensed way.

Moral of the story (or, in this case, blog post): Challenge yourself as a writer, and try new formats that you’ve never used before. Writing is a form of expression whether you’re writing a literary analysis, an application essay, a lab report, a policy brief, or a three-sentence story. So, use it to express yourself! And maybe you’ll also learn something about yourself along the way.

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