Poet and artist Blake Auden shares tips on how to use writing to manage your mental health
I have suffered from anxiety for most of my adult life and have tried a range of therapies, techniques and approaches to manage my mental health – but nothing has really helped me like this. writing.
Many studies highlight the benefits of writing for trauma, anxiety, and overall mental well-being, as it allows people to externalize their feelings and see their experiences in a new light. But that doesn’t mean that writing doesn’t come with trauma per se.
In my poetry writing experience, I’ve found that being really vulnerable and honest – both with yourself and with your readers – takes something away from you, but it also gives something in return.
Trying to unpack and examine complex and deeply buried emotions was difficult and often unsettling; maybe hurting is just an act of remembering. However, the process has made me feel more comfortable with my memories and better talk about my anxiety with the people I love. Ultimately, writing gave me the opportunity to face my demons in a way that no other therapeutic approach has, while helping me to truly connect with my reader and hopefully help him cope with his own anxieties.
So with that in mind, here are five simple tips to help you use creative writing to manage anxiety on your own.
1. Read first
In his masterclass on writing poetry, Billy Collins suggests that to find your voice, you must first explore the voices of others. Through reading – whether it’s poetry, novels, non-fiction, or any other type of creative writing – you can familiarize yourself with how others use language, create metaphors, and elicit an emotional response from their readers, and this can help inform your own approach to writing. By listening to the voices of other writers, you can begin to understand what makes your writing different – what separates you from those who have come before you.
The reading process can also help you make sense of your own emotions, especially if you are trying to cope with complex or traumatic experiences. Finding resonance and understanding through the work of others can be deeply cathartic and help jumpstart not only your recovery, but your own creative work as well.
2. Start a journal
I have long been an advocate of journaling, both as a writing exercise and as a tool for managing your mental health. Writing in a journal every day helps to externalize your emotions and allows you to look at them from a new perspective.
You can just write about your day, or you may prefer to use prompts – a quick online search will give you plenty of options. By writing down how the emotions you experience or how times of your day have affected you, you immediately take a more conscious approach to your thoughts and feelings, making it easier to process and understand them.
Not only that, but keeping a regular journal allows you to practice writing every day and can often give you starting points for poems, stories or even a novel. I still keep a journal regularly and the lines from my journal are often incorporated into my poems in one form or another.
3. Focus on authenticity
Once you start creating your own work, I think it’s important to try to be genuine and honest, even more so than what format or style of language you use. You want to resonate with your readers, and I think the best way to do that is to write from your own experience.
It can be tempting to write what you think people want to read, but a lack of authenticity in your work will likely alienate readers and prevent you from making a connection with them. Write about your own experiences, emotions, struggles and try to be as honest as possible with what you produce, both with your readers and with yourself.
Not only will this increase the likelihood that people will want to continue reading your work, it can help you cope with your own trauma and your own emotions. The ability to create something beautiful and meaningful out of pain is extremely cathartic, and that was my approach for my recent chapbook. The things we leave behind.
4. Don’t be afraid to share your work
Sharing personal work online can be intimidating, especially when you’re new to writing. But it’s only by posting your work, whether through traditional media (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.), online, or through social media, that you can truly connect with an audience and start to evolve as a writer.
Feedback is a crucial part of any writer’s career, and it can take many forms. Of course, critical analysis and reviews are a part of that, but the most important feedback will come from the community that you are a part of. For my part, I found my community via Instagram, where I was able to connect with fans of poetry and with other writers. Their feedback has been extremely important in increasing my self-confidence as a designer and in making me feel like I’m doing something meaningful with my work. Feeling like a part of something bigger than yourself is incredibly important, and it can only come from building an following and sharing your work with them.
5. Write letters, even if you don’t send them
I am a huge fan of letter writing, both as a technique to overcome writer’s block and to help you recognize and process your own emotions. Similar to journaling, writing letters to people in your life allows you to exteriorize how you are feeling and to speak openly and honestly.
In most cases, I would recommend that you do not send the letters, as it gives you the space and freedom to be completely honest, both with the person you are writing to and with yourself. Putting it all down on paper can be really cathartic and can actually help your relationships with the people you love because you don’t bottle everything anymore.
Writing these letters can also help speed up your writing, especially if you are writing poetry or short pieces of prose. I have often taken ideas, lines or phrases from letters I wrote and turned them into poems, especially for my recent chapbook.
Blake Auden is a poet and artist based in Brighton, UK. He has published three collections of poetry and his fourth book “Whisper” is released worldwide on October 5, 2021. You can find links to purchase the book here.
You can follow Blake on Instagram and TikTok, or join his Altar For The Hunted Things mailing list for free.
If you need support for your mental health, contact a professional using counseling-directory.org.uk