Return to the Handwritten Note

Life has become so busy that we have all but forgotten the joy of opening a physical envelope containing a letter or card from a loved one. Remember how much fun it was to run to the mailbox when you were knee-high to a grasshopper? Remember how exciting it was to open that birthday card from your grandma or to unfold the crisp pages of the letter (all written in perfect cursive) from that great-great-aunt that you had never actually met in person? Of course, when bills entered your life, some of that joy was translated into “oh no, not another one” – but the pleasure that came from opening and reading a personal, handwritten note could never be entirely erased by the bill collector. Then the bills stopped coming? Did you notice that? Your mailbox became a collection point for glossy print junk mail as e-mail and text messages threatened to make snail mail and voice calls (with real people – not the automated message systems) a thing of the past.

Tired of finding only adverts and other meaningless scraps of paper in your mailbox? Be part of the change. The tide is turning, as people are rediscovering the value of a handwritten note. Communication is about connecting with people, but modern communication takes the personal element out of the connection. Each of us has the power to reintroduce that personal element and add some sunshine to someone’s life. We can choose to invest in our relationships – and no, it doesn’t take nearly as long as you think it does. Pick up the phone and actually call your friend. Instead of sending an emoticon and half a sentence to sum up your state of mind, tell them (with your voice) how you feel. Take the time to ask how they are feeling, and then wait on the line to listen for their response. Or better still, pick up a pen and a piece of paper and invest a few minutes in putting your thoughts down on paper. You don’t have to be a wordsmith to send a love letter, some encouragement, a birthday card, or a simple line or two to let someone know you are thinking of them. If you can send a text message, you are more than qualified to send snail mail. And you are likely to make someone’s day if you take that step and actually drop a mail piece in the mail, push a note (no complaints, please) under your neighbor’s door, or place a cheerful card on someone’s desk when they least expect it. Before you mention it, let me say that having chicken scratch for handwriting does not excuse you. I have received letters in the past that were… how shall I say this… rather difficult to decipher. But I appreciated that it gave my mind a small workout to figure out what was written between the punctuation marks. Chicken scratched notes provide ample opportunity to chuckle at the possibilities as you try to guess the totally illegible words – and everyone knows laughter is good for you. So, if you have ambiguous handwriting, remember that by putting it down on paper and sending it to a loved one, you are actually giving them a double sized gift: a good laugh and a nifty puzzle all wrapped into one.

In celebration of the return to handwritten notes and cards, I am working on a creative project that shares the joy of sending and receiving physical mail. The images in this post include examples of some of my one-of-a-kind, illustrated cards and envelopes that are available in my craft store. These original art pieces can be hand-delivered or mailed (check with the postal system in your country to ensure they comply with your local postal restrictions). These are ORIGINAL artworks (not reproductions), so when you add your own words, you will have something to share that is entirely unique.

I still have family members and friends that make the time to send me snail mail. It remains a delight to find their piece of mail in my mailbox. I do the same for others, so I appreciate that it takes effort and the cost of a stamp to send a handwritten note.  Most – perhaps all – people I know are worth the effort (and a stamp). You don’t outgrow this small pleasure – not only of receiving snail mail, but also of sending it. So make this week the week you buy a stamp and write to that person you haven’t written to in many years. Go on – just do it!

Need stationery? Try the family-friendly DIY card kits from Zisubu Artique.


The Effect of Art on Healing

Surgical Anatomy by J. Maclise 1859 Art, health, and healing are related. Say that out aloud in a public gathering and most people will nod enthusiastically. That art and music are great healing therapies for the body and soul is accepted as an undisputed “fact”. But is it really a “fact” or just something we feel must be true?

Stuckey and Nobel took a long, hard look at the connection between art, healing, and public health (Stuckey and Nobel, American Journal of Public Health, February 2010, vol 100, no 2, p254-263). These researchers compiled a review of qualitative and quantitative research studies (1995 to 2007) focused on the relationship between participation in the creative arts (e.g. painting, drawing, music, dancing) and health outcomes. What were they searching for? Proof (or the absence of proof) that participating in the creative arts does in fact play a role in physical healing. What did these researchers find? In rounding up and reviewing twelve years of research, Stuckey and Nobel came to the conclusion that artistic expression does have a positive effect on health. Obviously, the research is ongoing and we will continue to learn more with each new study conducted. If you are not interested in reading journal articles yourself, let me sum it up for you: the evidence indicates that creative engagement (i.e. actually participating in artistic activities) decreases anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances.

But what does a decrease in anxiety and stress have to do with the way you heal?

Everyone knows that too much stress is bad for our health, but most people think that stress only reduces our sense of well being. It turns out that stress doesn’t just make us feel bad on a head level. Stress actually plays a big role in how we heal on a physical level. Gouin and Kiecolt-Glaser, in their research on the impact of psychological stress on wound healing (Gouin and Kiecolt-Glaser, Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America, February 2011, vol 31, no 1, p81–93) found that psychological stress significantly delays the healing of wounds. Lucas’ research on psychological stress and wound healing (Lucas, Wounds, 2011, vol 22, no 4, p 76-83)  reported findings from three other studies linking anxiety and depression to delayed healing.  In simple terms, this means that stressed out, anxious people don’t just feel bad – they experience higher levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone) which has a negative effect on the immune system. The immune systems of stressed out, anxious people don’t work as well as they should, and as a result their bodies don’t heal as quickly as they could.

Surgical Anatomy by J. Maclise 1859The news today is that participating in a creative endeavor is good for you – not just in some distant, “good feeling” kind of way, but in a practical, clinically measurable way. Science supports this. Being creative will help to lower your stress levels and reduce your anxiety. When you are less anxious and stressed out, your immune system will work better. When your immune system works well, you fight disease more effectively and you heal faster. If you want to encourage physical healing, follow your medical team’s advice while you also do your part to reduce your stress and anxiety. Start small by including creativity into your life. Not sure how to be creative? No time for such “nonsense”? Definitely see yourself as a non-artistic personality? Too sick or too exhausted to still be “arty” and  creative at the end of a long day? Try an easy-to-use, stress-reducing tool such as “Healing Patterns: A Coloring Book for Adults“. Using this book requires no artistic skill (but you will need some colored pencils), and you stay in control: you decide how long to be “arty” each day. Take a step towards better health: be creative.

Illustrations: “Surgical Anatomy” by J. Maclise (a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons) – published in Philadelphia by Blanchard and Lea in 1859.