15th January 2020
The Big Read:
The Mental Health Benefits of Letter Writing
How to pen a letter to the most important person in the world: yourself.
The modern world is full of messages. From work emails to text messages, digital communication is everywhere. Because of this, you could be forgiven for thinking the art of letter writing had been forgotten. But you’d be wrong.
Penning a handwritten missive is actually making a comeback, and it’s not just helping people to stay in touch. People are discovering the mental health benefits of letter writing, and using this age-old pastime to organise their thoughts and feelings, offload, and combat loneliness.
Write a letter to your depressed self
It can be hard to see the bright side of life when you’re struggling with mental health issues. So the next time you’re feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, sit down and pen yourself a message.
Remind yourself about how you feel when things are OK—commit to paper any positive thoughts, and try to communicate a sense of hope. With any luck, this will help you dispel those dark clouds when you’re feeling symptomatic and offer encouragement.
Write a letter to your happier self
When you’re feeling down, anxious, or struggling with other psychological issues, getting things off your chest can help you gain clarity and feel less burdened. A good way of doing this is jotting down your thoughts and feelings, and writing a letter to your happier self.
Try to be as honest as possible and write down helpful details like when you started to experience symptoms and if there were any catalysts. This will help you determine what habits or situations bring about a period of low mood or anxiety.
Write to your future self
Many people with mental health issues struggle to imagine their futures, because they’re too bogged down in the present or the past. Writing a letter to your future self will give you an opportunity to think constructively about what’s to come and what you want to achieve. As you write, you’ll also have to think about the actions you’ll need to take to realise your ambitions.
A good place to start is to write the future date at the top of your letter. Talk to the person you imagine you’ll become and feel free to ask questions. You can then put the letter away and open it on the date you set out at the beginning. This will give you a chance to assess your past, how things have changed and what you did (and didn’t) achieve.
Write to your past self
Writing a letter to your past self is an opportunity for self-reflection, and can help you to think more positively about the past. When composing your message, contemplate how you felt when you were younger, how your feelings have changed, and what you know now. You might find yourself offering your younger self advice, encouraging them not to worry about the future, or letting them know you’ve come to terms with things that happened in the past.
Enjoy the time you spend penning your letter, give yourself plenty of time to read it back, and make sure you’ve conveyed everything you needed to say before signing off.
Keeping things bottled up is rarely any good for your mental health; the things we neglect to say out loud often fester inside and make us feel unhappy. Writing a letter that you don’t intend on sending can help you express those thoughts and feelings in a safe and productive way.
If you’re frustrated at a particular situation, offloading those negative emotions can help you relieve any tension and allow you to think more clearly. Likewise, if you’ve had an argument with someone close to you and you don’t want to run the risk of escalating the dispute, writing a letter can help you get things off your chest and communicate more calmly when you do eventually talk.
So far we’ve only looked at letter writing as a tool for self-reflection and offloading, exploring the types of letter you can send to yourself. But letters are useful for keeping in touch and can make you feel less lonely.
If you have a friend who suffers with depression or anxiety, sending them a letter discussing your own battles with mental health can open up new pathways of communication, and help you and your friend feel supported. Penning something to a partner can also give you two the space you need to articulate how you feel and express your feelings more clearly.