Is Facebook becoming the ‘confessional’ of the digital age?

Seeking ‘likes’ from friends can encourage acceptance and forgiveness for our deeds. (pic courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/freedigitalphotos.net)

Facebook: a platform for perfectly groomed self-promotion, or an explorative ‘confessional’ place to discover your feelings and identify ways to improve yourself? Most of us might think the former, but a researcher into the creative industries thinks otherwise.

The act of posting your achievements for all your Facebook friends to admire, from your latest DIY success to the number of miles you’ve run this week – as well as sometimes admitting to some mistakes you’ve made along the way – can apparently make you more self-reflective. And this can lead to more self-awareness and personal growth, according to Dr Theresa Sauter from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation in Australia.

Showing off what’s been good about your day proves that you’re doing OK in life. And sharing what hasn’t gone so well shows awareness that your behaviour may not be top notch – especially when friends can ‘like’ or comment on what you’ve posted, says the research.

“It can become a therapeutic tool that helps people discover how they feel and how they can improve themselves,” says Dr Sauter.

I think there are two interesting ideas to emerge from this piece of research. (more…)

How to express your true feelings in words on World Poetry Day

anima world poetry day

Let poetry capture the DNA of your thoughts and feelings. (pic: istockphoto.com/LoopAll)

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Robert Frost

Today is the UN’s World Poetry Day, a celebration of creativity, diversity in language and individual expression in the written word.

Whether you journal regularly, scribble down a few thoughts occasionally, or craft some beautiful prose when the muse strikes, the act of writing your thoughts down without censoring what’s coming out of your pen can be tremendously therapeutic. Here’s how to get in the healing mood for writing in rhyme –  though poems don’t always have to rhyme:

  • The act of putting pen to paper and letting it flow can be cathartic. Grab a pen and let your thoughts flow onto the page. 
  • A poem is a way of accessing a deeper part of yourself that you perhaps intuited was there but didn’t know for sure if it existed. Let it have some space on the page. 
  • Don’t worry about crafting. A poem can be a few lines long, so there’s no pressure to write a lot. 
  • Don’t censor as you write. Tell your mind to get out of the way and let something deeper come through. Let the feeling have its rise and fall.
  • No one ever sees your words but you, so don’t write as if someone were looking over your shoulder.
  • Choose ink colours that represent your mood: try red for anger, blue for sadness, or orange for power. Then experiment with colours you don’t like so much, and see what emerges.
  • Stand back and allow the true message to filter through you. Writing a poem can be surprising and revealing when you read it back.
  • Enjoy your words. Giving your thoughts a poetry shape can leave you with a huge sense of achievement.
  • Appreciate the little piece of you that has found expression in the world.

Can venting your anger online make you feel worse?

anima anger online

Ranting online gives short-lived catharsis but can lead to longer-term anger issues. (istockphoto.com/KyKyPy3HuK)

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Those famous words of Mark Twain have been given a contemporary twist in research carried out to discover the impact of venting anger online. Can the acid of anger come back to harm you?

Psychologists from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay investigated Anger on the internet: the perceived value of rant-sites. They carried out two studies to look at the way people express anger anonymously on blogs, social networks and on rant sites (forums specially created for venting anger), how they feel after ranting, and the emotional impact of reading angry posts. They particularly wanted to find out if venting anger can be cathartic in the short and long term.

All participants in the first study said they felt calm and relaxed immediately after ranting online. But those who vented frequently were found to become angrier rather than calmer. The study found that frequent ranters have higher anger scores and “express their anger in more maladaptive ways than the norm”. They were also found to demonstrate anger ‘offline’ too, averaging one physical fight and two verbal fights per month, and half of them had been told by others that they had an anger problem. As for the emotional impact of reading rants online in study two, people became less happy and sadder after reading the rants.

The researchers concluded: “Reading and writing online rants are likely unhealthy practices as those who do them often are angrier and have more maladaptive expressions styles than others. Likewise, reading and writing online rants are associated with negative shifts in mood for the vast majority of people.”

So, what to make of these results? They are partly in line with catharsis theory, as emotional release can be healing. But, importantly, only if it is directed in an appropriate way. Unlike expressive writing, where you’re encouraged to spill your feelings onto the page as a way of working through emotional problems, venting is “void of any structure” and doesn’t have an end in mind other than letting off steam (which then causes more anger in the long term). But through the  process of expressive writing, the person spilling their stresses on the page learns to face and ‘own’ their issues.

But in the online-venting study, there were some revealing responses from participants:

  • 67% appreciated other people commenting on their posts.
  • 42% wanted validation for their feelings.
  • 29% would prefer to talk to someone.

It seems that angry people want to be listened to, acknowledged, and validated. They want their feelings to be seen, heard and understood. Perhaps their reason for venting anger online anonymously is a fear that their anger cannot be tolerated by the person or thing they’re angry about, and they’re afraid of repercussions? And perhaps they’d secretly love to trade the bitterness of their acid for the milk of human kindness?

Why reading a good book can be therapeutic (and not just on World Book Day)

worldbookdayyaToday is World Book Day: a global reason to celebrate all that’s good about books and reading. The point of World Book Day is to get kids “exploring the pleasure of books”, but for adults it’s also an excuse to indulge in the curiosity and escapism a good book can provide. (As if you need an excuse!)

But reading isn’t just about entertainment or killing time on a commute. Studies have shown that bibliotherapy (a form of psychotherapy using reading materials) can help to reduce people’s negative thoughts and mild depressive symptoms.

Here are 10 ways reading can have a therapeutic effect:

  1. Reading helps you make sense of your world and your place in it. There’s a book somewhere that will have a story or situation that is similar to yours, and that you can identify with.
  2. Metaphors can make issues easier to come to terms with – especially if the problems are hard to talk about.
  3. Losing yourself in a good book is a great stress-reliever. It’s about creating some me-time, switching off from life’s stressors, and escaping to another world.
  4. Books stimulate the imagination and creativity. They may even tempt you to write your own feelings in a journal to help you process and understand what’s going on for you.
  5. You can rekindle your passion for stories and feel more alive and connected.
  6. You can feel uplifted and know you’re not alone by reading other people’s situations and understanding how they process and express their emotions.
  7. A word, a phrase, a gesture in a book may hold the essence of something deeply felt within that’s never been expressed before.
  8. Stories can hold deeper meanings for your life and touch you in a way that real-life situations can’t.
  9. Libraries are a ‘healing place for the soul’, according to the Ancient Greeks. The very act of reading can be healing – especially when you create the time and space.
  10. It can be exciting to go into a bookshop or library without knowing what you’re looking for, and trusting that the right book will leap out at you with the right message at the right time.

So, trust the process and go and grab a good book. You’ll feel all the better for it.

Can food journaling help you lose weight?

nutrition diary

Keeping a food journal can help you track patterns of emotional eating. (pic: istockphoto.com/nndrin)

Anyone who keeps a journal knows that writing your thoughts and feelings down every day can help identify patterns in your emotions. The daily act of journaling can be healing because it’s an outlet for what’s pent up inside. And it can help you come to terms with difficult events in your life.

Journaling is also proving to be a tool to help you make seismic changes in behaviour. A self-confessed ’emotional eater’ in the US, Charmaine Jackson, has revealed that daily food journaling helped her shed half of her body weight. You can read her full story on CNN. She meticulously recorded everything she ate and drank – and what her mood was like – over five years and 14 journals. She noted she would turn to food when she felt stressed or wanted to cheer herself up, and she would mindlessly munch on junk food while watching TV. “The food journal was my truth serum,” says Charmaine. “It made me be honest with myself.”

Charmaine combined food journaling with exercise and advice from a dietician. But we can see from Charmaine’s story that a food journal has these benefits:

  • You become aware of your eating patterns and bad habits.
  • You can track the emotional reasons behind what and when you eat.
  • It can make you more mindful about eating.
  • It encourages you to take responsibility for what you’re eating.
  • You can feel empowered to make meaningful and lasting changes.

So, instead of tucking into a family pack of crisps next time you’re watching a movie on the sofa, why not reach for pen and paper instead?