Enduring memories of childhood for many of us include when we would choose a book for story time. We remember beginning to add our own imagination, perhaps drawing the main character, making up the characters’ voices, and maybe adding a familiar place name instead of ‘far, far away.’ We have memories of learning, in a very easy way, to take control and shape narratives – to story tell.

How and where we construct and share our stories as adults has never been more accessible – voice recording on our phones, with photos on social media, or writing in a lovely new notebook received as a gift. Regardless of the means, the process that we have been practising from a very young age is the same. It is no wonder, then, that we turn to something so familiar and comforting when we need support in times of stress, at crisis points, and very much over the last year.

The EIS Our Well-being Matters Programme has strongly featured storytelling as a means of exploring personal and professional identities, as a self-care tool, to reflect on difficult times, and to plan for the future. Here, we offer some ways in which storytelling can meaningfully support our well-being in every part of our lives:

My best self is like…

In a recent webinar, participants described their personal and professional selves using the widest range of rich descriptions, from a bottle of bubbly, to a library, to a knight on horseback. Trainer Eimear Stassin offers why this process is effective in the ‘What is Well-being’ webinar, stating that developing these descriptions is outcome focused, positive, and we can claim ownership by using first person statements.

A problem shared…

Workshop leader Dr. Catherine Deveney of the NUJ states:

“Creating fictional characters, and building a narrative around them based on your own experiences, is a great way of gaining a new perspective on troubling issues. In the Creative Writing for Well-being classes, participants are often surprised by how much insight, and how much self-empathy, they gain through the creative process.”

Look back in positivity…

The Open University’s Reflecting on Well-being Activities course took well-being champions on a journey of reflecting on the well-being activities they had supported over the past year, and begin to plot out their ideal next steps. It is easy to become stuck in an endless negative loop when looking back, which is where the ‘what’s working, what can be improved upon’ approach of Appreciative Inquiry becomes a useful tool. OU lecturer Dr. Carolyn Cooke states:

“In periods of exceptionally fast change we quickly develop new strengths, new relationships and new ways of thinking about what is important. EIS/OU workshops provided a space during the pandemic to reflect on what had happened, identifying how these strengths provide continuing opportunities to support well-being.

“We can begin to recognise storytelling in our everyday lives. Our scribbled ‘things to do’ list can now take on new meaning – it can plot out where we want to go that day, and the main events and characters. Looking back at the end of the day can reveal the plot twists, and some ticks, stars, and doodles can change the narrative from an endless negative loop of ‘I didn’t achieve’ to ‘I managed this’ and offer a good starting point for tomorrow.

“The extraordinary experiences of the past year mean that we will all have new stories about ourselves to tell, and we should look for ways of telling them to one another as part of the recovery process. Some stories will be of sadness; others of resilience and hope; others of humour that in spite of everything can make us smile and laugh. Whatever the story, it’s waiting to be shared.”

To find out more about how, please visit the Our Well-being Matters Programme page on the EIS website, where you will find more information and resources on all of the workshops and webinars mentioned in this article. Happy storytelling…