This post has been written as a follow up to my post on Knowing your Worth. After publishing that post, I received lots of messages and questions on journalling. I had mentioned how much I feel starting a reflective journal helped me sort through my thoughts. Many of you requested the details of how journaling for mental health helped me, so…ta-daaaaaaa! I am in no way a mental health expert, (or expert of anything really, except maybe eating cake…). So, this is simply my journey with it, and how it helped me personally. After the year we have all had, any tools that help us keep in a positive mindset are useful right?
What is Journaling?
Firstly, there are zero rules when it comes to writing a journal. It is your process, so you can utilise it however suits you. I touched briefly on what the essence of journalling is in my previous post. But, simply put, journalling is writing your thoughts onto paper. It is the exploration and acknowledgement of your thoughts, feeling, life events, or even daily plans. Your writing can be as detailed or as brief as you like. It can be written in the mornings, or added to all day. As I said, no rules! What journaling does though, is build a relationship with your mind. It helps you to understand your own thought process. It can also pave the way to leaning into things that are bothering you.
The style of journaling most people think of, is diary keeping. As a child, I kept a diary. My Polly Pocket diary would have my carefully written days events in them. My 8 year old self felt the importance of noting in detail, what had happened in the pages of my latest Enid Blyton book. Or I’d report what friend had come round to play, or even how mean my older brother had been to me that day. It was a run down of my day, with my childlike thoughts thrown in.
It was the start to a habit that has served me well though. Keeping a journal/diary has been something that I have picked up and put down at various times in my life. I will forever be grateful that I picked this habit up again throughout my years of backpacking trip around the world. I love diving between the pages of that journal and transporting myself back to 19, 20, 21 year old, adventurous me! My thoughts and feelings I experienced then, all told in the first person. It is weird, but amazing! Not sure I would be letting my own kids read too much of that particular journal though…
Journaling for Mental Health
Having a mind that is healthy, is absolutely paramount to our wellbeing. I have spoke many times about my love of meditation and having a regular practise in place. I credit that practise to keeping myself grounded and on an even keel. However, journaling has become another weapon in my arsenal for a healthy mindset. I am an over thinker, a worrier, so my mind can get bombarded at times. Meditation helps me calm and quiet my mind. It helps me to see what is important to keep in my head, and what isn’t. Journaling then massively helps me empty out that stuff that does not serve me. The two things together are a match made in heaven right?
To be fair, writing has always been a cathartic practise for me. When I was going through the teenage angst years, I was a prolific poetry writer. Usually poems about boy trouble, (and how awful teenage boys were). These days, my blog is like my journal in some ways. If you have been around on my blog for a while, you would know I often have a brain dump! My cuppa and a chat series have always been amongst my favourite posts to write. They throw out thoughts that are in my head, and open them up to discussion. Well, journaling is a bit like that, but more privately! My journals are for my eyes only, so I can be as to the point as I feel I want to be! I can really pour my heart out onto the page, knowing that there will be no judgement. Well, apart fron my own judgement when I read a page back a few days later and chuckle at how dramatic I can be!
I picked up journaling when I was feeling like I needed to work through some stuff. I was feeling a little lost in my direction. After all the stress my family has been under the last few years, it felt like the waters had calmed finally. This was very, very welcome, but it left me feeling a little cast adrift. I wasn’t sure what my goals were. I was a little unsure what I wanted from the next chapter of my life. This left me feeling like I was just spinning on the spot. A bit like a car with its wheels spinning in the mud. The power and enthusiasm was there, but I could not get traction on the right path! It left me feeling so confused. I hated it. So, I decided to start writing down my thoughts to see if they would become clearer.
The Benefits of Journaling
There is many, many reports from research carried out, on the positive affects of journaling for mental health. The mental health charity Mind.org has some great information on journaling. They also talk about journaling via video if writing is not your thing. There is also some information on the scientific findings of journalling, in this report I found interesting. However, as much as the science is interesting, I am more of an emotional creature, so the holistic results for me were far more telling.
The benefits that I personally found from journaling were;
- Helped me stay focused on the positive
- Helped me empty my head of the gazillion thoughts flowing through it
- Made me feel more in control of my thoughts
- Made me rationalise when I was feeling hurt or upset
- Helped me see how far I had come when reading back entries
- Gave me something physical and practical to do when I was feeling overwhelmed with my thoughts
- Helped me to see the wood through the trees
- Acted like a release of emotions
- Made me more self aware of my triggers and the things/people that sapped my energy
- Made me feel I was making progress in sorting my thoughts
- Helped me sleep better as over thinking was not stealing my peace
- It helped me remember my worth
There are probably many more benefits that journaling has brought me. I have not joined the dots up on some positive results yet maybe. I know in time, the increase in sleep that I am seeing is going to benefit me massively. Mentally and physically. I also know that my journals can act as a reminder of how, when I was feeling rubbish, it did not last forever.
How I Journal
Like I have previously said, there are no rules to how you keep a journal. The only thing I would say, is to try to do it every day. Even if you only write something that you are grateful for, try to enter some words daily. When I started, I was writing about half a page in my notebook. Now, some days I write 4-5 pages! I always write in the mornings, without fail. Once I wake, I make myself a cup of tea, and journal. I do not pick up my phone or allow any distractions until I have wrote my morning thoughts.
I always start with a few things I am grateful for. That can be anything from be grateful for the beautiful sunrise, or that my family are healthy. Whatever comes to mind. It just feels so good to start my day with lots of positive thoughts. Then I might ask myself, “how do I feel today”, and write what comes to mind. Some people use journal prompts when they first start, but I never have. My mind seems to always have stuff to spew out!
I also pick my journal up through the day if I feel the need. It might be just to note something I found funny, or something that made me feel good. It could also be something that has made me feel a negative emotion. Whatever it evokes in me, I write it down and leave it on the page. It is like unpacking a bag. It gets it out of the mind, ready to sort into its rightful place when I have the time or inclination. I sometimes write a few words of a night to, once I have got in bed. This is probably my least favoured time though. I have usually dumped my brain contents off throughout the day! All I can recommend is just picking up your notebook when the mood takes you. Your journal, your rules.
My ongoing journey with journaling for mental health
I feel that writing a journal has been a fantastic habit to form for me. There is so much to be said for journaling for mental health. I have proven that to myself. It has given me so much clarity and order to my thoughts. I am not for one minute telling you that I now have it all figured out, but I do not feel so overwhelmed. I feel positive and optimistic that I will figure it out, and that has stopped the fleeting feelings of panic that I kept getting. I also feel like I am more rational in my thinking. As fellow over thinkers will know, even the most simple things can be turned into huge problems in our minds if the thoughts are left unattended!
Journaling has allowed me to be the gatekeeper to my mind. It has given me the clarity to evict those thoughts that live rent free in my head, but serve no purpose! It is something that I feel I will always do. It also has the added benefit in that it is showing yourself some self care. Gifting yourself that time with your journal is showing yourself that you are worthy of those moments. For me, it is a beautifully calm way to start my day, and makes me feel like I can conquer the world! Give it a go. As this crazy, unpredictable, strangest year that many of us will ever live draws to a close, starting a positive habit to take into the new year is a fab idea. Connect with and build healthy relationships with yourself first. Mind, body and soul!
I hope this was of some use to you. I would love to know if you have any experience with journaling. Is it something you have tried? Is it something you never really “got”. Are you tempted to give it a go? I would love to hear what you think.