4 Ways Snail Mail is Good for Your Mental Health



College was a pretty hard time for me, mental health-wise. It's pretty common for your late teens and early 20s to hit you pretty hard between the drastic life changes (new environment, vastly different living situation, new people, changing relationships as you go from kid to some kind of adult) and the general still-not-fully-baked-ness of the brain. I struggled with anxiety, panic, and depression-- and still do on occasion. But luckily for all of us, mental health-- like most health-- is about managing and coping with whatever conditions we're born with and/or develop in whatever way works best for us. I put contacts in my eyes since I cannot naturally see things, take a synthetic hormone supplement for one my body doesn't make enough of, pop an allergy pill in case I go outside or encounter a cat, and a million other little things to keep myself happy and healthy. One of those things for me is sending letters and postcards to friends-- and maybe it could be one of those self-care things for your brain, too! Next week I'll talk about tips for how to get in the habit of sending mail, but for today, let's talk about the why.

1. Connecting to other people is a really good thing for your brain! We're social animals--isolating ourselves isn't healthy, but if you're depressed, anxious, or otherwise not feeling good, you're probably doing just that. You might be having thoughts that no one wants to talk to you or feel so ashamed or sad that you don't want to be around other people. Luckily for you, you don't need to be around anyone or even directly engage them over text or chat to send them a letter. It's a way of connecting to people without the pressure of responding immediately or making eye contact or any of the stuff that might be scaring you about interacting with people.

2. You're probably going to make someone's day-- and knowing that is a good feeling. When you get a piece of mail that's not junk, a bill, or a legal summons, it's a really great day. Most people rarely get mail, and whether it's a close friend or even a far flung one they aren't the tightest with but still care for, it's really great to know someone was thinking of them. Getting out of your own head to think about how someone else will feel is a positive thing when you are down in the dumps or just feeling "blah." It takes you out of your own sadness and gets you thinking about how you are a very small and manageable but also very real catalyst for good feelings in the world.

3. Writing letters without expecting reciprocity is an act of selflessness. Some people really believe that a letter must be reciprocated-- in some circles, that's just the etiquette. Personally, I don't like to follow that mindset, because it turns letter writing into something transactional. It's very easy nowadays to quantify everything, and while in many cases that can help us optimize our lives, it can also frame the way we see the world in terms of how much we give versus how much we get. And frankly, if you're anything like me (and in this way I think most people are) seeing the world in those terms makes you feel sad, unfulfilled, angry, and even cheated simply because you are noticing a lack of balance in numbers. We don't process everything we encounter or experience, and it's important to use that to our advantage. If you're focusing on a conversation with a friend at a coffee shop, you might not notice how many people come and go-- even if you saw those people somewhere in your field of vision-- because that brain energy is better spent going towards your goal of having a great conversation. In the same way, giving (or in this case, sending a letter) just for the sake of giving is a lot more fulfilling that giving in order to receive. Hanging on to an unnecessary expectation makes you sad or hurt or resentful, so why have one? Not only are you better off without it, but you start getting in the habit of choosing not to expect things in return and thus experience far fewer disappointments in life.

4. Snail mail changes how you perceive time and space for the better. Not to get all trippy on you, but time and space are very relative things. There are instances where a hundred miles is not too far to stay connected to someone, and others when a room apart feels like an ocean away.  There are times when a week feels like a day and when a minute has lasted for hours. Things are so instantaneous now, it's only natural that we've lost patience. I get frustrated if Amazon tells me my stuff will take more than a week to get to my apartment (I pay for Prime for a reason, dammit!). We spend a lot of perceived time waiting as seconds stretch between a sent text and a reply, minutes and hours become millennia as we watch our inboxes. We agonize over lengths of time that are actually very little compared to how we experience them. Writing and sending a letter changes the way you think about time and distance by making you feel closer and more present to people who are far away by sending them something physical and tangible, while at the same time dialing back your perception of time to remember that seconds and minutes don't have to be your primary frame of reference when it comes to time-- you can also think in days and weeks and still be totally okay. Maybe even better.

Basically, sending letters is really good for your brain-- especially when you are stressed, anxious, sad, or just finding that the pace of life is too burdensome. If you haven't done it in a while or ever, definitely give it a try! Next week I'll be giving tips on getting into letter writing because sometimes it's intimidating.

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