The Mental Health Benefits Of Journaling
In this blog post we will be exploring the mental health benefits of journaling…
Keeping a journal or diary is becoming increasingly popular and can be a useful tool to manage stress, anxiety and depression. There are an increasing number of studies showing the mental health benefits of journaling and although it is not a substitute for conventional treatments, it may be a practical way to help you manage your mental health.
The act of expressing feelings and thoughts in writing can clear the mind and help you to reflect and be aware of negative patterns. Identifying key triggers of stress can help with self awareness and self development. You can then prioritise problems and work through negative thought processes and behaviours to help limit their impact. This can alleviate emotional trauma.
Journals can be a safe and secure place to record innermost thoughts and emotions in complete confidence, and without fear of being judged. Some people like to reflect on their writing to understand their journey and personal development. However, others don’t feel the need to constantly re-read everything. The act of articulating their thoughts in writing and emptying them out of their head is enough to bring mental clarity and promote positive emotional health.
There is no right or wrong way to journal, it is very personal and can be used in the way most suited to your personality and lifestyle. Write about what you want to and as little or as much as you want. It is also important to remember that if you do not find it enjoyable or useful, then there are alternative therapies available to support mental health and there is no pressure to continue.
If the thought of keeping a journal is of interest to you, here are some ideas to get you started. However, remember, it is your personal journey and there are no real rules.
Choose a method that appeals to you
You can choose to write on paper or use a digital journal. If you like to draw, use diagrams or symbols to illustrate your thoughts, a paper journal may enable you to be more creative. Writing by hand is slower but the idea is that this helps you to process your thoughts more thoroughly. A paper journal can also be more convenient, it is portable, you can carry it about, pick it up and write instantly without relying on passwords or charged batteries etc. The main disadvantage is that you could lose your journal and therefore all of your writing.
Alternately, if you prefer to word process, you may be better suited to a digital method. If you think privacy may be a problem, secure password protection can obviously help to safeguard your writing. Entries can be faster when typing, and various online apps have useful organisational features and prompts that can be difficult to reproduce in simple notebook form. You can also journal in Microsoft Word or Pages.
Day One is a free app for Mac and IOS users, (you can upgrade for more features). You can add photographs and text and your entries can be exported into a PDF file. Grid Diary is another useful app which provides templates and prompts to help you reflect. Most of the features are free to use but again you can pay for upgrades. Evernote is an app we have covered on the A2B blog before and allows you to make notes that easily sync across all of your devices (read our Evernote write up).
The kind of journalling method you choose is purely down to preference and the medium you feel most comfortable using.
Keep your journal close by
Keep your journal close to you if possible, in a bag, desk drawer or bedside table. You are more likely to write about your current feelings and moods if it is easily accessible. It is more probable that you will also develop and maintain a regular habit if you keep it handy. A digital option can usually be accessed by mobile phone which most people constantly have with them.
Although writing regularly is recommended to keep track of your thoughts and feelings, the idea is that journalling is meant to help you feel better and shouldn’t feel like a chore. Try and put a period of time aside on a daily basis if possible, and it will get easier and gradually become second nature.
Use a timer if it helps, for example you could aim to write for at least fifteen minutes per day. You don’t have to stop when the timer goes off if there is more you want to say, but you will have achieved at least fifteen minutes. This can be extended if necessary as you become more experienced and comfortable with the process. One timer app that we love is Forest, which allows you to use the time you have accumulated in the app to plant real trees in the rainforest.
Choose a time that is convenient, maybe when you wake up, on your daily commute, your lunch break or before you go to sleep.
However, if at first you find the process difficult, write when you feel able to and don’t ever feel under pressure.
Quick Start Challenge
If you are feeling pressed for time this 5 minute per day challenge will give you a taste of the mental health benefits of keeping a journal. First thing on a morning write down 3 things you are grateful for and then on an evening write down 3 good things that happened that day. Try this for 7 days and see if you feel more positive.
You are expressing your thoughts and feelings. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar and spelling. It is important to just write honestly and let it flow using language you feel comfortable with. To help you keep track of events you might find it useful to date your entries.
Express yourself in ways that are comfortable for you, you could write lists, bullet points, write a poem, use illustrations or write in story form. Some people write letters as a way of communicating their feelings to someone. The letter is not usually intended to be delivered, but writing down thoughts that they would like to express to someone can be therapeutic.
Write without self-judgement
It is your journal and no-one is judging you so do not judge yourself. Allow yourself to be upset about things and write about negative emotions, fear, hurt, jealousy, without embarrassment or guilt. These feelings are normal and you are doing a positive thing by trying to resolve issues and inner-conflict.
You may find that you write about your feelings and worries when you are at your most emotional. Reviewing these later when you may be feeling more relaxed and calm can help you to reflect and put them into perspective. This can help identify trigger points that you can recognise and try to avoid, making better choices in future.
A bullet journal is a flexible method to help you track goals, short and long term and significant events and milestones. It helps you to be more focused and organised by recording everything in one place and helps to de-clutter the mind, which again can promote positive mental health. More information about bullet journalling can be found here.