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Writing Through the Winter

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

By Alex McIntosh

The winter blues are a reality for many of us. The cold season was difficult enough before COVID, but surges and restrictions have compounded the normal loneliness of this time, leaving many people to struggle alone. While there are no easy solutions, there are things we can do to care for ourselves during these months: exercise, a healthy sleep schedule, nourishing food, staying connected with loved ones, and making time for creativity, to name a few. Creativity, particularly in the form of writing, has been a great help to me in difficult seasons. Writing regularly has helped me feel more content, more grateful, and less alone. And I’m not the only one—there are loads of scientific research confirming my belief that writing is a gift we ought to give ourselves.

In the winter, especially, writing helps me notice the beauty around me. Winter’s beauty that may not be as obvious as that of the shining summer months, but it is there, in the frost shining on the branches of the Dogwood tree, or the birds making circles in the grey sky. It’s easy to want to rush through this season, but writing helps me slow down and pay attention—what the poet Mary Oliver called “our endless and proper work.” When I’m having trouble writing, I’ve found it helps to read poetry. Oliver’s work is an invitation to appreciate the natural world, but there are many others I return to as well: Ocean Vuong, Tarfia Faizullah, Joy Harjo, Christian Wyman, and Brigit Peegen, just to name a few.

When I’m not feeling particularly creative, it can be helpful just to note a few things about my day that brought me joy—if joy feels unreachable I settle for things that weren’t awful. Like watching my dog Grizzly sniff the ground on our walk, or talking to my mom, or hearing someone laugh on a phone call across the street. And sometimes it helps to write about the things that made me sad, like a racoon with its foot in a trap on a hunting show that someone left playing silently on the tv. Or not being able to scroll down past 2019 on my photos app because it still hurts to see my grandpa’s face and remember he’s gone. Writing is a strange kind of balm that eases my pain even as I confront it, like the words take a bit of sorrow with them as they go and hold it there for me on the page.

Even when I’m missing someone or physically alone, writing makes me feel more connected. If nothing else I feel like I’m a part of something, like I’m adding my voice to the history of humans who have recorded their experiences through the written word. Imagining my notebook or word document in a giant library of human voices makes me feel a part of something—though it’s comforting to know that no one will read my words unless I choose to share. Writing also makes me more aware of myself, of who I am and what I like, and the unique way I experience the world. It’s funny how often I ignore myself, how often I forget this most intimate relationship. But hearing my voice on the page helps me to practice self-compassion, to love myself, and even like myself, a little more.

And I’m not the only one who’s experienced the benefits of writing. Cambridge University Press published an article in 2018 about the many ways expressive writing improves mental and physical health. Interestingly enough, the data shows that writing about difficult things is very good for us: studies have shown that individuals who write about traumatic or stressful experiences for 15-20 minutes on 3-5 occasions are healthier than those who use that time to write about neutral experiences. (So my sad racoon description is a means of healing!) Of course, it’s not just writing about trauma that helps. WedMD says that journaling regularly about any topic can help reduce anxiety, combat brooding, create awareness, and regulate emotions.

Health benefits aside, writing is a great way to pass the time in these winter months. It makes me feel like I’m creating something, and it doesn’t come with the guilt of binge-watching Real Housewives. It helps me find the beauty in the current moment, practice gratitude, and know myself more deeply, all while supporting my mental and physical health.

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