Expressing the Mind: reflecting on my experience of writing a blog
Some time ago, during an email exchange, I received a suggestion from Professor Carmine Pariante for today’s piece that focused on my experience writing a blog. However, with everything that has been going on in the world, I questioned the relevance of the subject matter; I procrastinated for quite some time and deliberated about how to make this post more pertinent to you, the readers, and how to relate it to mental health.
After an encouraging conversation with my friend regarding writing and blogging, I came to the decision to not only write about my personal experience, as Professor Pariante suggested, but to also discuss the power of writing in terms of how it can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health.
So this time I’m going to put down my scientific-analytical cap and do some self-reflecting and maybe even offer some advice and insight for people who would like to start writing and contribute to InSPIre the Mind, as well as mention the benefits of writing on your mental health.
My overall opinions (of writing a blog post)
I recently completed my MSc in Psychiatry from King’s College London and I am currently pursuing a career in research. For those of you who are interested, I’ve written for InSPIre the Mind before — a scientific piece on the benefits and potential use of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of depression.
Initially, I was a bit reluctant about writing this scientific blog on omega-3 fatty acids, and quite doubtful of my abilities. This wasn’t something that I had always wanted to do. But nonetheless, I was drawn in by the idea of informing people about a topic I care about related to mental health and contributing to such an insightful publication that includes compelling posts by writers from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.
I can happily say now that I found it to be a rewarding experience and was surprised by my skills and felt a sense of pride in what I had written based on the positive feedback that I received.
What did I enjoy and find difficult during the process?
Probably my biggest enemy during the writing process and, frankly, during other tasks, as is the case with a lot of people, was…… procrastination!
There were times when I was either not in the mood to write, was too tired, was unsatisfied with what I had written, or ran out of ideas, and therefore I would delay its completion. This is not beneficial as you soon realise that hours become days, days become weeks, and weeks become months and you haven’t made a single bit of progress.
However, I noticed that when I would remind myself of the motivating factor (which I will discuss in a moment) and focus on the chosen topic, only then would I become completely engrossed in the activity and be able to make some progress in completing the task. This progress doesn’t have to be immense; it can be finishing a paragraph or two or re-organising the sections of your article. I think that the important thing is to make progress and to do it as frequently as possible (ironically, I have procrastinated on this section quite a bit).
I also have the tendency to be perfectionistic in a lot of what I do, which can push me to complete work thoroughly but it can also be a hindrance. It can create a lot of unnecessary pressure and anxiety since I would feel self-conscious and worried about what others may think about my writing and so I would frequently filter my thoughts. An insightful InSPIre the Mind post by Courtney Worrell delves deeper into this relationship between perfectionism and mental health. However, I think that it’s important to allow yourself to freely express your opinions before reading through your work and making any edits so that you don’t stop the flow of ideas.
Despite the small setbacks that I faced, my biggest motivating factor was feeling as though I was doing something important — impacting the public by engaging with them and educating them about the science behind mental health.
It was also a great opportunity for me to articulate my views in a concise and organised manner, as well as develop my ideas and get my thoughts out there. In the end, I felt a sense of completion and achievement, which gave me greater confidence in myself.
It felt satisfying to have my work validated and read and seen by other people.
Some tips on writing a blog post (from my point of view)
I believe that the beauty of blog writing is that anyone can do it. It is about expressing your opinion and discussing a particular subject area that you’re interested in using evidence to back up your points where necessary. It is essentially a more informal form of a written article.
Important tips based on what I learned:
Create a plan or structure — I think it’s useful to outline headings in the beginning so that you can be aware of what you need or are going to include. Furthermore, I think that it’s helpful to have a narrative layout, which allows your readers to easily follow your train of thought.
Include pictures — I find that this is a really good way of visually engaging your audience and helps emphasise the points that you are addressing through association, thus making them more memorable for the reader.
Beating procrastination — sometimes it can be difficult to come up with ideas or our perfectionistic nature can sometimes impede us from starting or finishing the task. But it’s about changing your mindset and knowing that you will have the chance to go over it and it will be proofread by editors. So just put down the ideas you have (even if it’s not in chronological order — you can focus on one section and then go to another), and then you can refine them. Split the big task into smaller more manageable tasks and think about the emotion of finishing the task. Come up with an earlier deadline for yourself before the real deadline.
Remember the reader — keep the reader in mind when writing. Don’t use overly technical language, since blogs are usually accessible to a wide audience and so you don’t want to alienate any of your readers. Reading other peoples blogs can give you an idea about the type of writing style or language to use.
The link between writing and mental health
There may not be any obvious link between writing and mental health — some think of it as more of a burdensome task — however, there is evidence that indicates the potential therapeutic benefits of creativity, gratitude and positive writing.
A relatively recent research study reported that participants who received talk therapy along with gratitude writing (writing letters thanking others) had significantly better mental health (scored higher in a questionnaire measuring well-being, psychological symptoms and life functioning) after 4 and 12 weeks than those receiving only talk therapy or talk therapy with expressive writing. This was considered to be due to the use of fewer negative emotion words.
Another study noted that a 4-week positive writing course given to recently discharged psychiatric patients, not only helped them manage their emotions and stabilise their mental health, but also resulted in significantly lower depression scores compared with those who did not receive this course.
A third study found that patients with long-term mental health conditions who participated in arts-based groups that included a creative writing activity reported a short-term significant increase in positive emotions and a longer-lasting significant reduction in negative emotions.
Writing about different experiences and perceptions of mental health through, for example, blogs, can create a dialogue and a space for individuals going through these difficulties to connect and provide emotional support. One review highlighted that the act of blogging allows for catharsis and social connectedness and also improves peoples’ coping strategies. Most importantly, personal writing can promote self-awareness and self-reflection as well as strengthen the bond with oneself, which can lead to personal growth.
Conclusion I hope my blog was able to convince you that writing can be not only an enjoyable experience but also a healing one. Especially now, when we are living in unprecedented times and living with a great deal of uncertainty, writing can be a powerful tool that we can use to verbalise how we are all currently feeling and what we are going through. Ultimately, I believe that sharing our experiences with each other will allow us to come out of this COVID ordeal with a greater sense of awareness about ourselves and understanding the most pressing issues that face the world and move in a progressive direction globally to create a better future for all.