Yesterday I ordered a pack of 6 of my favourite A5 bound notebooks that I use to write my journal and it got me thinking about the benefits of journaling for mental health. I have been journaling on and off for over 10 years and in the last 3 it has become part of my routine that I can’t do without. My journal is like my therapist, friend, co-worker, spiritual guide all in one. I use my journal to keep track of the highs and lows of my life, to work through struggles with my work, relationships, family or inner life and to dig deep into what is under the surface of my conscious thoughts. My journal is there when there are things on my mind that I can’t say out loud to anyone and it is there when I don’t even know what is on my mind. Journaling is what finally helped me to overcome disordered eating and move on with my life.
Some of the benefits of journaling for mental health include better processing of difficult emotions, management of stress and anxiety, increased clarity and direction for your life and cultivating gratitude, mindfulness and present awareness. I’d recommend to anyone to start a journal, even if you think your life is boring or you have nothing to write. Trust me there is always something! Don’t let the fact that you “aren’t good” at writing stop you from starting a journal. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Nor does it have to be interesting to anyone but yourself or even be legible. Just the act of getting things down on paper can be extremely therapeutic, even if you never look at it again or decide to rip it up or burn it afterwards as a sign of letting go.
Journaling techniques for mental health
There are many journaling techniques you can use if you’re not sure where to start. In her book Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth, therapist and author Kathleen Adams describes ways to use a journal to work through past and present relationship issues, find your creative expression and get to know yourself on a deeper level. Some of the techniques she includes are:
- Stepping stones (journaling prompts)
- Dialogues (with people, situations, feelings)
- Captured moments (descriptive writing)
- Free association (mind mapping and lists)
- Stream of consciousness (letting your unconscious speak)
You can experiment with different ways of using your journal depending on the outcome that you want. If you want to record the moments of your life, maybe a big travelling adventure, your child growing up or a special occasion you want to remember, you can use captured moments to engage with the present moment and capture everything you feel with all of your senses. Writing in this way helps you to be present and mindful and to let your creativity flow. If you’re feeling stuck in some area of your life, you can use free association techniques such as mind mapping or list making to get creative and seek innovative solutions. Or if you are feeling numb and disconnected, you can use stream of consciousness writing and see what comes up.
Written dialogues can help you to see the perspective of someone you are currently in, or have previously had conflict with or to see the positives in what seems like a dire situation. Journaling dialogues are a good way to process and let go of past hurts, even with people who are no longer in your life. The technique that has helped me the most is stepping stones or journaling prompts. Sometimes all it takes is for you to ask to right question for you to find the solutions you are looking for. Journaling about my disordered eating patterns led me down the path of asking questions about my self-worth, my values in life and discovering hidden shame, anger, disappointment and fear that were underlying my behaviours.
Journaling also helped me to understand why I was struggling with insomnia. Using the mind mapping technique was a way to uncover some underlying worries and situations which were affecting my sleep. Some of the things that came up were obvious such as work stress, drinking coffee and feeling physically uncomfortable but through this journaling technique I also had some realisations that I hadn’t thought of before including being stuck in the victim mentality, worrying about not being productive if I didn’t get enough sleep, comparing myself to others and getting jealous of their ability to sleep (any fellow insomniacs will understand this one!) and suppressing my anger. Understanding these things helped me to overcome my insomnia and start to finally recover my energy levels.
How to start journaling for mental health
Starting a journal practice is easy because there are no rules! All you need is a notepad and pen of choice, some spare time and the motivation to explore. You can choose a dated journal or a blank notebook, lined or plain paper, pocket sized or A4. You can write in ballpoint pen, coloured pencils, fountain pen and ink or a mix of them all. You can write in prose, bullet points, poetry and add doodles and sketches to the page if you feel like it. You don’t need to worry about writing neatly, spelling correctly or perfect grammar. In fact, the less you censor yourself the better when it comes to journaling. Just sit down, set an intention for your journal session, choose a technique and write until you don’t feel like writing anymore. This can be five minutes or an hour. You can include journaling in your daily routine or you can write when the mood strikes. Really it is up to you to find whatever feels good and feels like you.
Some days you might feel stuck or just a few words and others you might write pages and pages with the words seeming to flow out from nowhere. Whatever happens, try not to judge yourself and just let the process unfold. You can create an atmosphere by clearing out your writing space, maybe lighting a candle or playing some music to set the mood. Start by closing your eyes and taking a few slow, deep breaths to centre yourself and focus your attention on your intention, whether that is to explore a certain topic, vent out some trapped emotion or to reflect on the day. Start to write and if you get stuck, try taking a break to read back what you have written and take a few more deep breaths. Once your journaling session feels complete, close your notepad and store it somewhere safe. Having a ritual with a clear start and end gives your journaling practice that touch of magic and mystery that we all need a bit of in our lives these days.
Your challenge for day 10 is to think about how you could include journaling into your routine and maybe get yourself a journal and start your own practice.
Over to you…
I hope you enjoyed these quick tips on the benefits of journaling for mental health and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on how to have fun on your journey to health.
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