Once we get past the term paper and book report stage of life, many of us tend to view writing as a chore. Unless you're a creative writing hobbyist, professional communicator, or dedicated diarist, chances are good that most of the writing you do is dry and functional. But according to science, limiting your writing life to memos and emails is actually a big missed opportunity.
As you can see from the links above, I've covered this line of research a lot here on Inc.com, but I hadn't considered how it might link up with our current moment until I read a fascinating recent Harvard Business Review piece from coach and author Deborah Siegel-Acevedo. In it, she argues that expressive writing (the kind you do just for yourself) is the perfect tool to finally find your way out of your post-pandemic funk.
Is expressive writing the cure for your post-Covid languishing?
Wharton professor Adam Grant called it "languishing." Trauma experts have nicknamed the problem "Covid brain." Plenty of everyday people just call it burnout. Whatever term you choose, many of us are experiencing the issue right now. While we're excited to see the pandemic waning in the U.S., we're also feeling exhausted, unmotivated, foggy-headed, and just kind of not at our best.
Psychologists insist this is a normal reaction to long-term stress (at best) or downright trauma (if you've been unfortunate to experience the worst of the pandemic firsthand). It's also oppressive and unpleasant. Many commentators have offered suggestions to find our way out of the post-pandemic funk. Siegel-Acevedo offers the simplest prescription of all: Just write about it.
"A certain kind of guided, detailed writing can not only help us process what we've been through and assist us as we envision a path forward; it can also lower our blood pressure, strengthen our immune systems, and increase our general well-being. Expressive writing can result in a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression; improve our sleep and performance; and bring us greater focus and clarity," she asserts.
Siegel-Acevedo goes on to cite decades' worth of studies showing that writing down our experiences and emotions helps transform random-seeming challenges into a cohesive narrative. And when we actively tell our own story, we tend to feel more in control of our lives and our feelings, as well as more energized. Writing, in other words, helps humans get over trauma, whether that trauma is a personal tragedy or a global pandemic.
How to heal yourself with writing.
So how specifically should you proceed if you're intrigued by the idea of writing about your experiences over this past difficult year? Siegel-Acevedo offers step-by-step instructions in her complete piece, but here is the basic procedure:
Forget everything you learned in English class. Expressive writing is about you processing your experiences. It's not for anyone else's eyes (unless you choose to share it), so who cares if you misspell a word or mangle the rules of grammar? Siegel-Acevedo suggests you set a timer for 10 minutes and simply write down whatever pops into your head about your pandemic experience without giving any thought at all to style. "If you run out of things to say, write that ('running out of things to say') until a new thought comes to mind," she adds.
Focus on the details. Try to think of sweeping lessons or broad descriptions straight away and your mind will often come up blank. Focus on the everyday objects and experiences that populate your memory and you'll often find the little things act as a door that opens up onto larger revelations. Siegel-Acevedo offers this prompt: "Think of one object in your home that signifies a moment in this pandemic for you. See it in full color. Feel the weight of it. Use all your senses. Now, write about that object and see how large its meaning can become."
Let the lessons flow. If you jot down your feelings and memories without forcing greater truths, eventually the larger lessons should start to flow. Your job is to be open to them. Siegel-Acevedo suggests you ask yourself, "What is one thing you know now that you didn't know before the pandemic?"
As it takes only 10 minutes, a pen, and an open mind to start experimenting with expressive writing, why not give it a try? It might just be the thing that finally helps you break free of your pandemic year funk.