How to Start Journaling for Better Mental Health?
“Whether you're keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it's the same thing. What's important is you're having a relationship with your mind.” — Natalie Goldberg
Several studies have shown how journaling is a habit and a practice that has numerous benefits for one’s mental health. In our previous article we discussed how journaling can impact one’s mental health positively by helping to increase self-awareness and becoming aware of one’s patterns, thoughts, and emotions.
While it’s a relatively simple and easy-to-practise form of self-therapy, many of us take time to adopt it, as we don’t know where to begin or hesitate as writing seems to be a daunting task.
In this article we hope to simplify the process of journaling. We hope that you can begin on this wondrous journey of self-discovery and improvement.
So what does one journal about?
“My thoughts sound terrible, and I don’t know how to write a journal!”
This is the reality for many of us who wish to start journaling. Either we think that our thoughts are not clear, or that we don’t know how to express our feelings on paper. It’s completely normal to feel this way when one starts.
Remember that there are no rules for how to journal. It is a unique experience that you can design for yourself to suit your personality and needs.
More importantly, there is no need to worry or pre-judge what you will be writing about. The point is to be able to be yourself and vent your deepest and maybe even darkest emotions.
The best part of writing a journal is that the blank pages hold no judgment.
This venting out on paper is extremely cathartic (meaning it involves the release of strong emotions through a particular activity or experience); and this itself has great psychological benefits.
Whether or not you choose to have an agenda or structure, is a choice you have. But the greatest mental health benefits from journaling come from expressing our innermost thoughts and feelings.
At times we suppress our thoughts and don’t share them with anyone. However, the act of journaling allows us to release thoughts and feelings that we at times don’t want to admit to ourselves or even someone we trust. So writing about how we are feeling especially when we are experiencing a challenging event can be particularly helpful.
Ideas for different kinds of journaling
Although there is no end to the things that you can journal about, here are a few ideas. (They are not in any order of preference).
- Things that we are grateful for: Maintaining a gratitude journal or making a list of things that one is grateful for on a daily basis is a common way to journal. It i reportedly one of the most powerful and popular journaling practices. It’s known to reduce stress, improve sleep quality, and even reduce the risk of heart disease. It’s perhaps one of the easiest and most effective ways to start journaling.
- Situations that need us to make decisions: When we are faced with a difficult situation or a decision to make, putting our thoughts down on paper can help us ‘see’ a complex problem better. We can also list the pros and cons of a situation to assess it better. Mulling over a problem by writing about it for a few days can help us make connections and analyze our situation in a more structured way. This can help us to arrive at a better decision, that we are more confident about.
- Things that are bothering us: Writing about the small things in daily life that annoy us and sap us of our energy can help us to know ourselves better. Further, just the act of acknowledging how we are feeling and venting our feelings can help us gain control over our emotions and make us feel better.
- Maintaining a log of our daily life: Describing our day-to-day life and revisiting it let’s say even a year later can be fascinating because it gives you insight into who you were once upon a time and how you’ve grown. It can also be a useful tool in the future if you ever want to know where you were and what you were doing on a certain day. Keeping a notebook with you at all times and jotting down of what you are doing, is a fun way of maintaining a journal of this kind. Many people even choose to incorporate drawing in their jorunals.
- The best thing that happened in the day: This is a great practise for the end of each day. Reflecting on at least one (or more) positive thing that happened that day is powerful positive feedback we send to our minds. This could be small wins from the day or just something nice that someone did for you.
- Our goals and dreams: Journaling about our hopes, dreams, and goals is a great way of keeping track of them. Else, if it all remains in our minds, it’s very easy to just forget about them. Over time we can follow up on our goals, break them down into smaller goals and actually pursue and make them a reality. If we don’t use them as a concrete goal planner, this kind of informal vision board helps align our subconscious minds towards some kind of big picture for our future.
- About a special experience: It could be that you wish to record a special phase in your life and so that can also be something that you journal about, so that you are able to record it and re-live it in the future. For instance, say you adopt a pet, or begin college, or start your dream job, and so on.
Besides these, people also keep artistic journals, food journals, travel journals, or whatever is meaningful and important to them.
Things to keep in mind when you journal
- Be yourself: Remember that it is your journal and that is it personal. Do not worry about what others will think. Express all your feelings and thoughts, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Be your genuine self and enjoy the experience.
- Consider making it a habit: For reaping the benefits of journaling, it is best to do it regularly; ideally daily. Investing just 15 minutes in journaling every day can work wonders.
- Focus on your feelings: Even if you’re writing about an event or details of your day, remember to focus on your feelings. Ask yourself “What do I think about it? How did it make me feel, and why did I feel that way?”. This is important if we wish to use journaling for enhancing our mental and emotional well-being.
- Revisit your old writing from time to time: It’s important to re-read what we have written from time to time to gain perspective on ourselves and how we and our lives have changed. In fact, this is an extremely important aspect of journaling that if often ignored.
- Any notebook will do: While you may choose to buy a journal that is designed with prompts, questions, stickers, and pretty artwork, a plain notebook can work just as well. You can create your own structure and design to suit your needs.
- Length doesn’t necessarily matter: Some people like to write long journal entries, while others who are pressed for time use bullet-journaling, in which they focus on key words and phrases, and drawing as a means of expression. One can write for as long as one likes. Consistency is more important than length.
- Type or write?: Many people maintain digital journals as they are convenient and don’t consume space, while others believe that the act of writing with a pen or pencil on paper is more personal and allows for greater creative expression. Since we cannot write as fast as we type, it allows the brain to give more thought and be more intentional when we write. However, different people have different choices as far as the mode of journaling is concerned.
If the only thing that is preventing you from starting with journaling is that you’re not comfortable or used to writing, or that you’ll be disappointed with what you write, let none of that stop you.
The quality of your journaling itself will evolve over time. And you can choose to give it whatever shape you like once you begin and see what you enjoy the most or what comes more naturally to you.
The important thing is to begin.
“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life-expanding.” – Jen Williamson
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Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes only. Lokyatha has observed best effort due diligence and all health related content is reviewed by a trained professional before publishing. However, this should not and can not replace personalized medical help. Please refer to a professional in all cases of need.