Mental health is becoming a topic of major concern, especially given how socially isolated we have been in the last few years. What was once a topic swept under the rug is now being more openly discussed, and as a result, we are starting to see new ways of helping people cope with things like depression and anxiety.
Whilst most of us think of journaling as a very teenage girl activity of pink diaries hidden under beds with heart-shaped padlocks, it is actually a very good way to keep a record of your personal thoughts and a completely gender-neutral practice that could help you manage your stress and ease your anxiety and depression.
Why Should I Journal?
The first thing you’re probably thinking is, ‘Why will this help me, and what is the proof?’
In terms of anxiety and stress, journaling has been proven to be a great way to release pent-up emotions and clearing the mind. Those pesky thoughts that keep buzzing in your brain have a place to go; you can write them down. Just getting the words out of your head and onto paper is a great help in letting you see through the noise.
It also helps you record any significant times of stress, anxiety, or depression which can help you easily identify patterns and triggers. You can do this alongside tracking any day-to-day symptoms so you can learn to manage them better. This is also great if you have a therapist, as you will be able to more constructively work with them to deal with any issues you’re having with real-life examples to hand.
One of the best ways journaling can help is to reduce negative thinking and promote positive self-talk. By forcing yourself to write down something good that happens during the day or reviewing and re-writing sections of negative self-talk, you start creating a record of positive thinking that you can look back on that can quickly become the norm.
“Even just adding a small emoticon showing your mood daily and tracking that can help you see there are more good days than you realized,” says Valerie Davies, a health writer at UK Writings and Paper Fellows.
How Should I Journal?
Learning how to journal is the hardest part but once you get started it becomes second nature. Set time aside every day to write in order to build up the habit. You don’t need a fancy notebook or special pens, just a basic ballpoint and some scrap paper can become a journal. Make sure you don’t lose them, though.
Creative writer, Boom essays and State of writing, Elisabeth Wood warns, “Avoid the terrible draw of Pinterest and Instagram journals that look perfect and artistic, your journal is your own, and it doesn’t need to be perfect.”
Make your journal your own, and don’t get focussed on what others might think.
Write, draw, color, type…whatever feels right to you, do it. Your journal is your space to let loose and express how you feel. You don’t have to share it if you don’t want to, so the only opinion that actually matters is yours.
What Should I Write?
Once you have decided how you are going to journal you may find yourself stuck on what to write. It doesn’t need to be screeds of text; just a word or two about your day or your current feelings is enough. If you keep your journal with you, you will be able to write as inspiration strikes, or you feel the need.
Some good ways to get started journaling are:
- Keeping a log of good things that have happened
- Write down your stream of consciousness without editing
- Write about what you can see around you
- Talk about your likes and dislikes, what makes you happy and sad
It doesn’t need to be in-depth philosophical reviews of your psyche, start small, and you’ll be amazed at what flows forth.
Journaling is a great way to get your thoughts in order and identify patterns of triggers and symptoms. There are some things, however, to bear in mind. First, don’t try and make your journal for anyone but you. Remember, this is a private place for you to deal with your thoughts and emotions.
Second, don’t get upset if you struggle to put anything down. Start small and build your way up. Work with your therapist if you have one to help you if you are struggling.
Finally, don’t set your expectations too high. Journaling is just one tool to help you; it is not going to solve all your problem. Speak to health care professionals to identify treatment for any serious mental health condition and, if possible, consult with your therapist or counselor before starting.