Writing by hand is an ancient practise, a sacred connection between our body, pen and paper. Our handwriting is unique and often easily recognised by our loved ones. And of all the mementos we keep in that box of special things in the back of the cupboard, handwritten notes and letters are among the most highly treasured.
The journey of grief is sacred too, and writing helps us begin to alchemise it. In the early weeks and months of my grief I carried my journal and pen everywhere - turning tears into ink, trying to make sense of it all, and asking life's big questions on the blank page.
You don’t need to be a “writer”, or consider any of the bones in your body to be the creative version. By virtue of existing on this planet as a human being, we all possess creativity in some form. Even if you think that’s a load of rubbish, it can still feel darn nice to get some of that thought-storm out of your head.
I’m about to introduce you to a new way to look at writing and journaling. Instead of a method of communication, I see it as a tool - a tool that has the power to heal.
Forces us to slow down
When was the last time you sat down to write anything beyond a grocery or to do list by hand? High school? Yea, that was me too before I met grief. Writing by hand connects us with our body, opening us up to a more sensory experience, and means we’re not distracted by the dozen other tabs we have open on a screen.
It really gets us sitting with ourselves in a way that we don’t normally allow in this modern fast-paced life. If the thought of this is terrifying and makes you want to tip over like a fainting goat, that’s even more of a reason to give it a go.
Allows us to “talk” it out
No judgement comes from a pen and paper. Perhaps you feel like your friends don’t want to hear about your griefy pain anymore, other family members may be unavailable, or therapy is inaccessible.
It’s a low barrier-to-entry way to get everything out of our heads, offering a container for the entire kit and caboodle of our unspoken grief stuff. As you’ll know, it can be pretty draining keeping those thoughts and feelings restrained. (I call these draining thoughts “energy vampires”!)
Once we’ve tuned into our intuition, we can start to answer our own questions, be our own sounding board, and provide ourselves with nurturing advice. Which then begins the journey of integrating our grief experience, instead of forcing ourselves to “move on”. More on that soon!
Getting things out of our head and onto the page allows us to step outside of our own experience. When it’s bouncing around your head it’s still not quite real, but when it’s on paper it has taken a form in the real world. This can be scary.
But it’s also transformative. Once it has a tangible form we can process it more easily, reflect and explore what’s really going on. This serves to improve our emotional intelligence around our grief, and opens us up to alchemise the experience.
Builds self-trust and self-awareness
By seeing things on the page we can really get to know ourselves, how we react, respond, and nurture ourselves. With regular practise it becomes a gateway of connection with our intuition and inner healer.
We’re able to gain access to a different version of ourselves. That might be the voice of our future self, highest self, or our best friend. With time we learn that we can rely on ourselves. We learn that while outside support has its place, we don’t always need to be seeking our answers externally.
Alright, now it’s time to get to the nitty gritty. I won’t bore you with the full background, but yes, folks have studied the link between writing by hand and our health. What they’ve learned makes for a hard-hitting list.
Increases neural activity, opening our brain for learning
Strengthens immune cells
Lowers blood pressure
Helps to regulate distressing emotions
Improves liver functionality
Seems like a no-brainer when you consider the simplicity (and time and cost efficiency) of a pen and paper vs any other method one might use to achieve similar health benefits.
A record of events
Just like you would a running training log or food diary, it’s information - what you did in terms of mindset, support, and therapy, or what happened one day to the next. And we all know we need good data to make good decisions!
Every once in a while it can be useful to go back to see what did and didn’t work over time. Plus, it’s often inspiring and revitalising to see how far we’ve come - particularly when it doesn’t feel like it.
Writing, especially by hand, subconsciously shifts our energy and begins the journey of healing. Neuroscientist, Dr Tara Swart, has said “Anything that releases emotions from your brain and body - like aerobic exercise, psychological therapies or journaling - reduces stress levels and guides the path to emotional stability and recovery.”
Putting into words how events made us feel agitated, upset, or sorrowful helps to reduce the intensity of the emotions. I’ve also found the inverse to be true - writing about things that bring me joy helps to savour that feeling.
So, what do you think? If you want to give journaling for grief healing a whirl I created a guide and prompts to help you get started. It’s a tool, and more importantly the permission, to begin your healing.
Download your free copy of 'Grief Journal Prompts for Modern Grievers': www.hannahrae.co/welcome