Mental Health

How to Start Journaling for Mental Health

Journaling is a simple and effective tool for working through stressful and anxious moments and can be a big part of your treatment plan, or just a useful hobby to help cope with negative or intrusive thinking. All you need to get started is a little bit of time and the writing medium of your choice. 

Understanding how and why journaling works can help you leverage its usefulness in your daily life. In this article, we’re exploring how to start journaling for mental health.

How Does Journaling Work?

At its heart, journaling is just about writing what comes to mind. It doesn’t always need to be structured or sensible. It doesn’t always need to serve a purpose outside of creating a safe and private space to vent. You can set yourself a goal for the day or choose not to. 

You can aim to fill a page, hit a word count, or just put a single sentence to paper per day. Some people use journaling to create stream-of-consciousness rants and channel a little bit of frustration out and away from themselves. 

Other people make lists, create dreams, write stories, or use their journals as a way to chronicle how they felt, examine and re-examine their thoughts on paper, and create rebuttals to all their negative and unwanted emotions, to try and deal with the feelings they don’t like. 

There are multiple ways in which journaling seems to provide a benefit not only to people struggling with their mental health but everyone. The act of journaling can be cathartic, providing a sense of relief by creating an outlet for whatever we have in mind. 

Journaling is also one of the most effective exercises in overcoming rumination, a common issue for many anxiety disorders and different mental health issues, where a person is caught in a cycle of negative thoughts, one leading to the next like an ouroboros. 

To recap: 

  • Journaling simply requires you to put words to paper, whether physical or digital. 
  • Journaling can help you vent about your day and provide cathartic relief for frustrating situations. 
  • Journaling allows you to take the time to explore your unwanted or intrusive thoughts and take them apart. 
  • Journaling gives you the chance to break free from a cycle of negative thoughts and challenge them objectively, on paper, to move on to a healthier sense of self. 
  • Journaling helps you gain perspective on your situation, allowing you to detail everything you’re worried about and angry about, while also taking the time to note down things you’re grateful for, happy about, or things that inspire you. 
  • Journaling helps you organize and declutter your mind, address issues that bother you, and work through problems in your head that preoccupy you and keep you from focusing on the tasks at hand. 
  • Journaling can elevate your mood and improve your wellbeing regardless of your mental state and is particularly effective for patients with anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms. 

Here’s how to start journaling for mental health.

Getting Started with Journaling

If you’re interested in giving journaling a try on your own, it helps to add a little bit of structure to your journaling efforts by giving you a quick explanation of how to set up a journal of your own. 

It’s usually best to decide on a writing style that suits your personality and issues. How do you like to organize your thoughts or tackle issues? Do you prefer to tackle questions in your mind via bite-sized bullet points, or are you more comfortable writing and making things up as you go along? 

When journaling, the choice on what to write or how to write it is entirely up to you – and best of all, you can easily switch and swap styles, try out new ideas, or go completely off-script and incorporate poetry or storytelling as a way to work through your worries. A few ideas include: 

  • Use bullet points to jot down crucial thoughts or things that anger you, and in turn take note of things you are grateful for, or happy about. You can also treat a journaling session as an opportunity to sort your thoughts, establish a priority to-do list, or just jot down things you might forget later. 
  • Recalling dreams every morning you remember them and reflect on what they might mean for you. There isn’t an exact science on what dreams do or don’t mean, but they are always open to interpretation, making them great writing prompts to write about things that bother or interest you. 
  • Utilizing journaling sessions to sketch instead. Pick a daily or weekly motif and make day-to-day sketches of that thing, such as a tree at school, your pets, a house plant, a building, or a friend. 
  • Stream of consciousness writing to vent about your thoughts, or just take advantage of the catharsis that comes from putting words to paper. 

You can choose to type your journal and keep it electronically or write it down on paper or e-paper, or both. Writing is often preferred by therapists because the act of writing itself can slow you down versus typing, provide a nice rhythmic exercise to work on mindfulness, and can be calming. 

Typing allows you to get your thoughts down faster, making it a better choice for the stream of consciousness journal entries, where the idea is to bring as many thoughts onto the page as possible, or just write whatever happens to come to mind. 

Schedule Your Journaling Sessions

Journaling is something that works best with a consistent effort. Journaling every now and again might provide a brief moment of relief, but by incorporating it into your daily or weekly schedule, you can create a habit that helps you preemptively cope with stress, keep your mood in check, tackle anxieties before they grow, and figure out what recurring thoughts or patterns might become too much for you to handle on your own before they overtake you. 

Set aside a timeslot each day or week to dedicate to your journal, either in the mornings or in the evening, as a start to each day, or as a pleasant mental nightcap. 

Consider Seeing a Professional

Journaling can be an effective tool for navigating your thoughts and establishing different ways to work through them, examine them on paper, or just get them out of your system. 

But don’t let journaling be the only tool in your repertoire. If you struggle with depressive, negative, or anxious thoughts to the point of finding it difficult to concentrate on your day-to-day, it’s important to consider getting professional help to work through those thoughts and develop a plan that works for you.

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