Can You Exercise Your Way to Mental Health?

Check out this media for Nita Sweeney author of Depression Hates A Moving Target and You Should be Writing

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Book Nook: You Should Be Writing

There’s never been a better time to write about anything, but especially about helplessness and fear: the way the walls in a home look after sheltering in place for months, the way the voices of protesters demanding change sound, the way your cat crawled across your keyboard during your performance review Zoom call. It’s also time to write about hope and unity: communities rising together, that helpful neighbor, a personal plan of action. Write it all down.

You Should Be Writing, by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney, is the perfect place to start.

Write to document, reflect, and heal. Countless studies show the mental and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Writing about personal and global trauma not only reconciles the consequences trauma caused, but rejuvenates body, mind and soul. June is You Should Be Writing Month, the perfect time to pick up a pen. Whether in a free verse poem expressing your mental state, an epic novel to creatively purge emotions, or a journal to record these times for future generations, start now.

Take care of yourself: pick up a journal and write it all down.

Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney’s decades of teaching, writing, and publishing experience has shown them firsthand the enormous power of writing.These award-winning authors would love to share their wisdom with you through their inspirational and instructive writing journal, You Should Be Writing. Sweeney and Knight’s writing journal, with quotes from a variety of authors to serve as prompts, and micro-essays for encouragement, provides the motivation necessary to help writers start, continue, or finish. Whether aspiring or experienced, anyone who has ever been stunned by the blank page will benefit from the wisdom their journal offers.

I had a chance to interview author Nita Sweeney to learn more.

What is so powerful and beneficial about writing?

Writing pulls the spinning thoughts out of your head and onto the page where you can discern their worth. They are no longer mosquitos you have to swat. You can think things through, analyze, plan. Write them out and as they roll out onto the page, the ones that ring true will ping in your head, tug at your heart, or land in your belly with a satisfying plunk.

Therapists and other mental health professionals have long recognized the power of writing to heal. It helps individuals remember events and process emotions. Writing also provides a record one can return to and gauge emotional progress.

Writing provides a sense of accomplishment. Seeing letters form on the page is in and of itself satisfying. In revision, watching wild writing, incoherent phrases and mixed metaphors transform also satisfies. Plus, you might just write something that sways the boss to do that thing you’re urging or convinces the editor to take your proposal on to the team for a sale. So many levels of accomplishment are possible.

When the world is on fire, it’s time to take good notes. We may never forget the smell of tear-gas or the pain in your friend’s eyes as she describes watching her parents’ funeral over the internet after they both died of COVID-19. But other small details may be lost. Write now to remember and reflect later.

Does the kind of writing matter?

It matters little whether you’re writing legal briefs, recording the details of a long run, or jotting down the antics of the planet-saving unicorn barista you’ve created. You’ll still reap the rewards of pursing the written word.

In the first draft of any document, pages that will never see the light of day, the truth reveals itself. While writing practice, journaling, and free writing encourage transformation, any writing can do it. And the discipline honed by any regular writing routine transfers into other areas of life.

What if people don’t think their writing is any good?

Few people are the best judge of whether their own writing or a particular project is good. We all need feedback. That’s why we have beta readers and editors!

But what about writer’s block or, as I call it, internal resistance? Many writers can’t just push through. Writer’s block causes physical sensations, a pit in the stomach, a tight neck, or a headache. To some, it feels like heartburn. Critical and judgmental thoughts flood the writer’s mind. Will this be good enough? Will someone take offense? Am I wasting my time?

Nod politely to that critical part of your mind. Thank it for trying to protect you from this terrifying activity we call writing. Thank it for its concern. Say, “Give me ten minutes and let’s see how it goes.” Then, set a timer and write without editing. If you’re typing, no backspacing. Turn off spell and grammar check so the squiggly red and blue lines don’t distract you. When writing by hand, no crossing out. If you don’t like a word or want to come back to it later, circle it. Crossing out gives the inner critic time to grab the reins. No. Just keep going until that timer rings.

Short writing spurts help writers acclimate to painful thoughts and body sensations. Ten minutes is a tiny, achievable goal. If ten minutes is too much, then five. But you must begin. Eventually, the pain of not writing will be stronger than the fear.

If facing the unknown (aka the blank page) creates resistance, writing prompts or a guided journal can help. Or maybe the journal you bought specifically to break writer’s block is too gorgeous. Buy a second copy. Put the first one on the shelf then get to work. As you continue, you will write the nuggets of what you really mean and feel, the truths you are trying to uncover.

It’s a hard truth, but you can only improve your writing by writing. Pick up your pen and go!

What’s your favorite part of writing?

The afterglow!

But of the process itself? I like the feel of a pen on the paper or my fingers on the keyboard. It’s instant feedback. I also enjoy the surprise. Words appear that I didn’t know were inside me. I access a deeper part of my mind. I love that surprise. I can think about a thing, generate ideas, and even a plan, but until I see them on paper, I don’t know their merit.

I also enjoy revision. Those messy first drafts become something that makes sense, at least to me. There is a distillation process in revision after the deep well mining process of writing practice. First you dig up the ore and then you hammer it or melt it or carve it or shape it into something beautiful. I love the way that works, watching the living thing that is writing turn sloppy dreck into gold.


Depression Hates a Moving Target by Nita Sweeney

Depression Hates a Moving Target

How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink (Running Depression and Anxiety Therapy, Bipolar)

It’s never too late to chase your dreams. Before she discovered running, Nita Sweeney was 49-years-old, chronically depressed, occasionally manic, and unable to jog for more than 60 seconds at a time. Using exercise, Nita discovered an inner strength she didn’t know she possessed, and with the help of her canine companion, she found herself on the way to completing her first marathon. In her memoir, Sweeney shares how she overcame emotional and physical challenges to finish the race and come back from the brink.


You Should Be Writing by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney

you should be writing

A Journal of Inspiration & Instruction to Keep Your Pen Moving

Writing Inspiration from Incredible Authors. Gathered by Brenda Knight and writing coach Nita Sweeney, author of Depression Hates a Moving TargetYou Should Be Writing provides you with writing wisdom from a variety of accomplished authors.

Writing Practice on Every Page. This journal is a must-have for writers everywhere. With quotes from a diverse group of historical and modern authors to use as creative prompts on every page, you’ll be able to bring your writing inspiration with you wherever you go. You’ll find plenty of great advice, such as Toni Morrison’s encouragement, “As a writer, a failure is just information. It’s something that I’ve done wrong in writing, or is inaccurate or unclear. I recognize failure—which is important; some people don’t—and fix it.”