Rediscovering your roots can be good for your mental health

ATV Today Lifestyle looks at the benefits of knowing your family’s history…

‘Loneliness’ marks this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, encouraging conversations around connectedness, belongingness and cohesion. With the pace of live ever increasing, it can be difficult to remind ourselves to stop, reflect and nurture the social relationships that are most important to us. Specifically, our family.

A trusted way to experience the feeling of belonging is through our family and understanding our heritage. ATV Today Lifestyle asked the UK’s leading national biographer, StoryTerrace, to show us just what the benefits of knowing your family history can have on one’s overall wellbeing and the rewards associated with getting to know your roots.

Looking into family past allows people from across the nation to feel closer with their relatives and get enmeshed with their family history. It has been documented by social psychologists that increased family cohesion is significantly linked to lower feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Rutger Bruining, CEO of biography-writing service StoryTerrace:

“While awareness weeks are a great way of starting the conversation, it is important that awareness around mental health is maintained beyond this; one study shows that 1-in-4 people will have trouble with their mental health every year. One of the key benefits of writing a biography is self-reflection. Looking back on our lives is often an emotional process – we address not just our best moments, but also periods of difficulty that we have encountered.

“Acknowledging moments of adversity that we’ve overcome is really important, and this can be really beneficial to our lives when thinking about the future as we can realise how far we have come.

1. It Brings You Closer to Family
When you begin your family history journey, you may end up discovering new family members all over the world, one’s that you never knew existed. This can lead to stronger connections, the ability to identify more with one’s ethnic roots and can help you find your overall belonging.

2. It Boosts Emotional Health
Did you know that having a strong family narrative positively impacts emotional health? Research from psychologists at Emory University in Atlanta asked 48 families 20 questions about their family history. They found that the more children knew about their families, the stronger their sense of control over their lives. They also had higher self-esteem and believed their families functioned more successfully.

“Hearing these stories gave the children a sense of their history and a strong ‘intergenerational self’. Even if they were only nine, their identity stretched back 100 years, giving them connection, strength and resilience,” – psychologists Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush.

3. It increases compassion
When we understand where we come from, we can understand our place in the world. By learning about the hardships our ancestors encountered, we can become more understanding of the inevitable ups and downs we all face and encouraged to keep the faith when times are hard. Knowing our family history can also help us to appreciate different cultures and open our minds. If you discovered you were related to someone from a different part of the world, what better excuse to go explore and get in touch with your roots?

4. It Empowers Decisions About Your Health
Knowing your family health history can help raise awareness about your risks of developing the same problems. This will empower you to look after your own health to prevent issues — whether that means changes to your diet or speaking to a family doctor about your next steps.

5. It Provides a Deeper Understanding of Cultures and Traditions
It can be fun to discover how your ancestors and wider family celebrated different events. Whether they were from a different cultural background or religion, your newfound knowledge can help expand your horizons and strengthen your understanding of your own beliefs. Delving into your family history can help you discover what exactly makes you, you.

6. It Can be Passed Down to Future Generations
Representing a social time capsule that preserves and stores memories in the most traditional form, the memoir can be passed down as an heirloom to inform future generations of their history for hundreds of years.

One inspirational woman who had her biography penned is Midori Williams. Williams decided to document her life story after working in multiple COVID-19 wards in the height of the pandemic and shares how journaling was a valuable tool that helped her cope throughout one of the hardest periods of her life:

“Writing the book in journal form was therapeutic. It gave me an outlet. It allowed me to reflect and to extend myself grace. The journal slowly evolved into the concept of a book, something I have wanted to explore but was too intimidated to try. One day I realised this needs to be written so others, including my family, can read about this moment in our lives. My voice and my patients’ voices will not be forgotten.”

Rutger Bruining, CEO of biography-writing service StoryTerrace:

“Journaling became a popular lockdown pastime, but rather than a short-term way of passing time, many people who have taken an interest in this form of writing have actually maintained it. This will come as no surprise when you try it for yourself as you feel the personal benefits which derive from it – especially when it comes to our mental wellbeing.

“During the past two years, I saw a lot of people turn their initial interest in journaling into biography writing – and it was so pleasing to see. It was great to see hundreds of people begin the process of writing their own life stories with StoryTerrace – we have the pleasure of hearing such a vast variety of inspiring journeys and experiences, alongside how they came about the decision to write their own story.”

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