Christine Webber

When I had to sit for exams in my teens and early 20s, my revision method was always to write down the facts I was trying to get into my head.

Usually, over and over again. 

I think this was instinctive – probably you did the same – but it definitely worked and was an excellent way to reinforce what I had learned, and to lodge it firmly in my brain. 

Decades later, I returned to exam-taking when I was training as a psychotherapist; luckily, the strategy from my youth still worked a treat.  

By then however, there was ample scientific research demonstrating that there’s a powerful connection between writing down information and building it into the memory.

And plenty of studies have shown that this is a much more efficient way of memorising facts than simply reading them.   

I also suspect, though do not know for sure, that tapping material into a laptop or phone doesn’t have the impact on our brains that we get from our physically written words. 
Of course, writing stuff down isn’t just about passing exams. It also helps us to clarify how we think, and process what is going on in our lives. 

Like me, you may have kept a diary as a teenager, especially when you worried that you’d never get into the career you wanted or that no one would ever want to kiss or marry you.

The agonies of youth! 

Many people however, record events throughout their lives. Their graduations, weddings, birth and development of their children and so on. I suppose it’s human nature to want to hold on to the wonderful times and keep them alive in this way. 

Recently, I stumbled upon old notebooks in which I’d written daily details of the holidays I enjoyed with my husband when we were first together. These felt like such special times when they were happening, and they still do. Reading about our exploits made me smile, and I felt huge happiness and gratitude as I recalled those golden memories.

Thank heavens I made that record all those years ago.     

A lot of folk also write down details of the tough times they have to go through. And nowadays many organisations – such as Cruse Bereavement Care – who help people through tragic periods of their lives, recommend keeping a journal as a way of dealing with them.   

As it happens, last week I was booked to be a speaker at a 2024 women’s health event in Wales, and I was asked if I could give a talk entitled, “Writing your way through grief”.

So, this is obviously an idea that has gained traction over the years and is now recognised as therapeutic, and a real benefit to people. 

Certainly, when my husband was first diagnosed with the illness that would kill him, I found myself keeping a diary in an attempt to make sense of his symptoms.

And as the months passed, this proved useful in helping me to understand his condition, and the speed of his deterioration – and got me into a frame of mind where I could accept how serious it was.

I continued writing after he died – and explored my complex moods, and how touching it was to experience kindness from friends and family, and also how I was making progress in building a new life around the one that had ended.   

I didn’t think of this as a “bereavement journal” at the time. But I see now that it was, and that it was good for me to keep it.   

Often, as I discovered, when you have written down material about your pain and your fears and your insomnia and so on, you find that you leave those troubles there, on the paper, and feel somewhat lighter in your body and mind afterwards.  

And the writing can take many forms.

For example, sometimes people who have never written a poem in their life will find themselves drawn to do so.

But whatever format you choose, the whole family can be involved in writing as they deal with their sadness. I know a widow who encouraged her grandchildren to pen letters to their recently deceased grandfather.

They wrote about how much they were going to miss him but also thanked him for being an “awesome grandad”. These notes were then buried with him. 

Why don’t you put pen to paper and see if it helps you to feel better? There’s a lot of advice on the internet, including this helpful blog which I found on the Sue Ryder

As we get older, there is a great deal of loss to deal with – not just loss of loved ones, but also a loss of our own fitness and our former routines.

We can’t always bring ourselves to tell others how bereft we feel and what our darkest thoughts are, but we can write it all down, and usually this gives us perspective, and makes our difficulties more bearable.