Creative Writing For Stress Relief

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Creative writing can be a powerful tool for stress relief. Here’s how it works:

Write about what bugs you, either in journal entry form or as poetry.

There have been scientific studies on this that showed that it really works. You’re taking the stuff that’s festering deep inside you and bringing it out in the open. It’s a “mind dump”. First of all, it has a whole lot less power over you once it’s on a piece of paper. You can even rip the paper into shreds and so physically destroy what has been bugging you.

Shaping your thoughts and feelings into poetry takes this process one step further. In fact, turning misery into poetry can be very self-empowering.

I’m a poet now, among other things, complete with a very cool published book of poetry (with a “real” publisher!): Average C-Cup. But I wasn’t always a poet — or even a particularly good writer. I didn’t start writing poetry in earnest until I had breast cancer.

At that time, writing helped me cope with the treatments and my fears. Journaling and then turning some of the results into poetry helped me transcend the pain and reclaim a sense of control. I could take my experience and shape it at will. What power!

Here’s one of the poems about that time:

I’m Here Now

Metathraxate, Cyclophosphamate,

and the anti-emetic Ondansetron –

every first and second Thursday

they drip into my vein as I lie

in a Barcalounger, feet up,

reading New Yorker cartoons

and Reader’s Digest’s Campus Comedy.

I liked the Barcalounger so much

I bought one.

*

How are you feeling? Everybody asks,

but they don’t want to know.

They want me to say I’m okay

but I don’t, so they stop.

*

The scalpel cutting into my breast

sliced it like roast chicken,

taking out the offending portion

with a margin of error.

When the nurses talked about it,

they called it CA, like California.

Never cancer.

Did they do that for my sake

or theirs?

*

Seventy percent five-year survival rate

means five years after the diagnosis,

thirty percent are dead.

Then I tell myself it doesn’t matter

for today. I could be crushed

by a falling airplane

on my evening walk tomorrow.

I might live three months,

or three years, or thirty,

and there are two hot cups of coffee

on my breakfast table.

You too may want to try writing poems about whatever it is that makes you feel down (they don’t have to be “good” in the traditional sense). Still, sometimes it helps to aim for a more challenging form, a sonnet for example, because one of the benefits of writing poetry lies in taking that aggravating life experience and taking control of it, shaping it any way you want and reclaiming your power.

Here’s another poem, a villanelle, with very strict rules on repeating lines and rhyme schemes. Working to shape the experience to fit into the form really helped me get out of the self-pity zone.

Chemoceremony

I go to war, a needle in my vein

for chemo drugs to find and kill the cells

out to destroy me. I won’t let them gain

an inch. Twice monthly, I show up and feign

bravado as I lie, eyes closed, the smells

of war around me, needle in my vein.

I clear my chemo days of all that’s inane.

Basking in Wagner’s operas quells

my impulse to give up, let cancer gain

on me. Singing Valkyres keep me sane,

remind me I have power to defeat hell’s

cells – those needles won’t have been in vain.

Warm showers later wash away the pain

with scents of lilacs and gardenia bath gels,

breakfast on my balcony helps me regain

strength as I breathe freely after the morning rain;

croissants, hot Mocha Java, all that tells

me why I fight and sacrifice my vein

to kill the cancer: There’s too much to gain.

Haiku, probably the easiest form for a newbie poet, can be a good place to start if you’d like to experiment with turning your experiences and feelings into poetry:

Writing poetry

Can help you survive tough times,

And come out thriving.

Okay, this isn’t a terribly good haiku, and it wasn’t particularly meant to be, though it does fit into the simple 5-7-5 syllable form. The key is to have fun with it. Why don’t you try to write one yourself? How about right now?