Keeping a journal is a great way to record your daily activities, explore ideas, and develop a better understanding of yourself and improve your overall mental health. While some people prefer keeping a quick and simple gratitude journal, others prefer keeping a detailed, exploratory journal.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about journaling, so long as it works for you.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at how to journal for mental health.
How to Journal for Mental Health
Journaling is a great way to not only document your feelings and the events happening around you but also to analyze them. When you take the time to write down what you’re doing, what you’re feeling, and how things are affecting you, you will learn to recognize your triggers, prioritize what’s important to you, and notice patterns that are affecting you in both positive and negative ways.
If you’ve been wanting to give journaling a try, you might not know exactly how to start or what to do.
Here’s how to journal for mental health.
What do you need to journal? Well, you need something to write with, something to write in, and a quiet place to write and contemplate. None of this has to be perfect, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money.
You can use a spiral-bound notebook and a ballpoint pen that you already have. If you want to, you could go out and purchase a lovely bound journal and a fancy fountain pen. The key is to find something that is within your means that you will want to use. While the act of physically writing might be more effective because it involves your muscles, you can even tap out your journal on your phone, tablet, or laptop.
Don’t let not having the “right” products stop you from starting to journal. Get started with what you have, and you can always switch to a different system later if you want to. Remember, nobody is going to be reading your journal other than you unless you choose to share an entry with someone else. Try not to let perfectionism stop you from taking this step. This also applies to grammar and spelling; don’t correct it as you go. Just let your words flow without concern for writing mechanics.
What to Write
If the thought of facing a blank page makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Many people have writer’s block, and the malady is not limited to people who are trying to write the next great American novel. Having some ideas in mind for what you want to write will help you relax and get started. Once you begin journaling, you might be surprised by how easily the words come.
Here are some ways that you might want to start journaling for better mental health. Remember that you don’t have to stick to the same type of journaling for the rest of your life… or even for the rest of the month! If something else seems more appealing, feel free to switch it up.
One of the best ways to begin looking at your glass as half-full is to think about what you’re thankful for. Some days, you might have a list a mile long. Other days, it can be a struggle to think of even one thing you are grateful for. Both types of days can and should be documented in your gratitude journal!
You can try writing a list of things you’re grateful for each day, or you might try choosing one thing and writing a few sentences (or a few pages) about that one item. You might find yourself writing about your gratitude for one or two constants over a period of time, and that’s okay. Or you may find that you’re looking for things to be grateful for as you go through your days, which is excellent!
Many times, we know what we need to do about various situations even if we don’t want to admit it to ourselves. Using your journal as an intuition journal can help. Write down a question that is plaguing you, such as, “should I stay in my current job?” Then allow yourself to answer as though your intuition is a good friend giving you advice.
For example, your intuition may tell you that you’re unhappy with your boss, that you dread your commute every day, and that you are not even interested in the field you’re working in. Conversely, it might tell you that the work is stimulating and that your boss is understanding, but the commute is making you dread the job. In this case, you may find that your best option might be to move or to talk to your superior about working from home a few days per week. Listen to what your inner voice has to say!
Another way you can get in touch with your feelings is with stream-of-consciousness writing. Open your journal and write without stopping for a certain period of time. If you don’t know how to start, you can write a few sentences about where you are sitting, what the weather is like, or something that you read about. As the minutes pass and you continue writing without stopping, you’ll often find that you are exploring thoughts and ideas that you weren’t consciously aware you were even having. Reading back over your stream-of-consciousness journal pages can help you learn a lot about yourself. Stream-of-consciousness journaling is something you might choose to do on a computer if you type quickly because the faster you can get your ideas out, the better for this type of work.
Remember that journaling does not have to be only about writing. It can be a way to express yourself artistically, too. Consider drawing, sketching, painting, or even sculpting as a way to express yourself. Art therapy is known to help people get in touch with their inner selves and improve their mental health by helping them face fears and overcome challenges. You can put this to work for yourself by including your art in your journal.
You could also write poetry or songs, as these media are great ways to express yourself. Don’t worry about being perfect; you won’t be submitting these to a publishing house. (If you do decide to publish them later, you can certainly take the time to clean them up as needed, but for your own journal, it’s not necessary.)
Talk to your therapist about other ways that you can harness the power of journaling to improve your mental health. He or she will be able to guide you toward journaling in the way that will be most helpful to you.