Benefits of Journaling & our Mental Health

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WHAT’S JOURNALING?

Keeping a diary isn't the same thing as keeping a journal. With a diary, you primarily record daily events and happenings in your life — the straight facts, in other words. Journaling, in contrast, zones in on your reactions and perceptions to those events in hopes of gaining clarity and making positive changes where necessary.

At its core, journaling is like getting a glimpse into your soul where thoughts and emotions roam free without fear of criticism. It's in this place where you can find meaning surrounding the circumstances of your life and identify areas to work on. All it takes to tap into this place is adopting a stream of consciousness writing style, free from self-monitoring.

Journaling is particularly helpful if you struggle with depression or anxiety as it helps to gain better control of your emotions, which improves mental health. That's why it's one of the best therapeutic tools and it doesn't even have to cost you a penny! That said, it's advisable to be under the care of a therapist if you find it difficult working through emotional issues by yourself.

Let's now take a look at 7 ways in which journaling actually benefits mental health... MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF JOURNALING

1. Gain Clarity- Writing is a reflection of your thoughts just as a mirror is a reflection of your body. Journaling offers you a glimpse into your working mind like no other method can.

You get to know the real you — what makes you happy/sad, what you like/dislike, what you fear and where you find peace. In other words, you gain a heightened self-awareness of everything about yourself.  As a consequence, you find out what you need to do to get more of what you want and less of what you don't want.

2. Build Empathy- When you start to look at things objectively, you can better understand other points of view. One way to achieve this in your writing is to have an imagined dialogue with another person. For instance, how would this other person respond to a question about having hurt you? When you're open to other perspectives, you blame others less for your problems which help make you a happier person.

3. Feel Calmer- Have you ever written an angry letter or email to someone but never sent it? How did you feel afterward? Did you feel better even though he/she never read what you had to say? Journaling is a bit like that. Writing about your emotions helps release them so you feel lighter, calmer and less stressed. And you never have to hold back since it's only for your eyes to see. Letting go of intense feelings through writing helps prevent them from getting stuck in a mental loop, causing you unnecessary suffering.

4. Solve Problems- Much of the time, we use our analytical left-brains to solve problems but that doesn't always resolve the issue. Sometimes the only way we can arrive at the answer is by tapping into our creative, intuitive and emotional right-brain which is precisely what journaling accomplishes. Having a different perspective can unlock creative solutions you might never have thought of before!

5. Increase Creativity- The creative component in journaling can also spill into other areas of your life like music, painting and sculpting. Once you get rolling, your muse takes over! And like journaling, you can try out new ideas without fear of judgment.

6. Boost Cognition- All of us have experienced great times of joy and sadness in our lives. Journaling can help recall our pleasant moments while improving memory and comprehension. Just the act of organizing our thoughts and presenting them clearly on paper boosts cognition. But what about not wanting to remember the bad stuff? Read on...

7. Track Patterns- Many doctors advise their patients to track physical symptoms to gauge their progress (or lack thereof). Similarly, journaling serves as a kind of "mental tracker."  When you start to write, you may find yourself covering the same territory over and over again, which you only realize when looking back on earlier entries.  These could be negative thoughts and behaviors you've identified or certain people/events that trigger you. By zeroing in on the problem, you have an opportunity to make positive changes which journaling makes possible! Thus, journaling offers a wonderful opportunity for personal growth.  So, how do you get started journaling? First, you have to know what areas of your life you want to focus on.

WHAT SHOULD YOU WRITE ABOUT?

Dedicated Days for Dedicated Topics- Even though a stream of consciousness writing style is at the heart of journaling, some structure is important to steer you in the right direction. For instance, you could have dedicated days to write about specific topics like:

  • Work
  • Relationships
  • Illness/Disability
  • The Natural World (e.g., sky, flowers, animals, ocean, etc.)
  • Your "Bucket List"

Accomplishments- Another idea is to record ALL accomplishments, however small, from choosing an apple over ice cream to taking a bath without requiring help. When you start to look back over your entries, you'll feel great knowing what you achieved.

Gratitude- Include 5 things you're grateful for in every entry you write. Even something as small as the smell of the autumn air is worth noting. Also, they're lots of great memes with powerful quotes and sayings about gratitude when nothing comes to mind.  Where there's hope, there's life – Anne Frank #disability.  So, how do you become a ninja at journaling? You adopt good practices. Let's take a look how...

BEST PRACTICES FOR JOURNALING

Create the Right Environment- Try to dedicate a tiny space of your house/apartment for journaling. You'll start to associate writing with this area which will automatically put you in the right frame of mind when it comes time to put ink to paper. Another idea to get into the writing mood is by lighting candles or listening to soothing music.

Make Journaling a Habit- The benefits I described won't amount to much if you don't write regularly. To get the most out of journaling, it has to become as routine as brushing your teeth. One reason people have a tough time keeping to a regular schedule is because they believe they have nothing profound to say but this outlook defeats the purpose. Journaling is about writing whatever comes to mind at that moment, regardless of how "deep" you think you're being.

The self-discipline required to maintain a consistent writing schedule also spills into other areas of life, where one good habit begets another, like starting a regular meditation practice. So, how do you turn journaling into a habit?

Well, I could suggest writing every day but that might burn you out and cause you to give up. So, here's a better strategy… Aim to write 3 days per week (and keep to the same days), 20 minutes at a time without stopping to edit.  If possible, write first thing in the morning so you can get on with your day without worrying about it later. Plus, you'll likely have an easier time collecting your thoughts.

Review and Re-evaluate- Do you remember the review/quiz that school textbooks had at the end of each chapter? Well, you kind of want to adopt the same idea with journaling. Sure, you could just write and leave it at that but I presume you want to gain something from your efforts, right?

Leave yourself some writing space after every entry (or every 10 entries, if you like) to jot down some "post-game commentary." After every week or month, evaluate what you've written as an objective outside observer and ask yourself questions like these:

  • What can I learn from this?
  • What do I have to do to move beyond this?
  • How can I improve this situation? [Or if you can't] What can I do to live with it better?
  • Are there any positive outcomes to this situation I hadn't thought of? [If yes] What can I do to make those a reality?
  • How would someone else describe the same events I went through?

Now, jot down your answers in the extra writing space and start looking for patterns from week to week and month to month. Note what's changed and what's stayed the same.

Try Different Mediums- Sometimes words can't express feelings as well as other mediums can. That's why things like collages, sketches, photos and even songs are worth trying. Plus, you're more likely to stay interested when exploring different avenues of expression.

But even if you just stick to writing, you have options…

Pen and Paper- Pen and paper are, of course, the tried and true way to journaling. Despite technical advances, nothing beats the personal nature and authenticity of jotting down thoughts the old fashioned way without fear of getting hacked like you could when using an app. Also, making edits is harder and that's a good thing since journaling is supposed to be a free-flowing exercise!

But they're downsides...

For one, there's always the chance of someone getting hold of your journal who shouldn't be. Then there's the possibility of losing or accidentally damaging it. And without a tagging system like apps/software have, it's harder to instantly call up selections from entries.

Still, pen and paper is the most popular journaling method, with the Moleskine leading the pack for most affordable, well-rated journals.

Apps/Software-Many journaling apps and software have entered the market in the last few years. A few popular ones include:

You could also use Evernote or Google Keep for your personal journal. Another option is to use a basic word processing program or minimalistic writing app like Ommwriter (which I love) and store your files on Dropbox. Then there's 750 Words which is a great way to stay motivated in a community with other journal writers.

Blogging- Perhaps you'd like to broadcast your thoughts and feelings out into the world. With this approach, you can get feedback from readers instead of writing in an echo chamber which journaling tends to be.

Resource content: https://confinedtosuccess.com/benefits-of-journaling-for-mental-health/

 

The Health Benefits of Journaling By Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP

I’ll bet you write (or word process) daily. If you are like most women, you record only what you must. In an effort to change your mind and your habits, I’ll let you in on a well-kept secret: A pen coupled with paper can serve as a powerful life tool.

Journaling (or keeping letters or diaries) is an ancient tradition, one that dates back to at least 10th century Japan. Successful people throughout history have kept journals. Presidents have maintained them for posterity; other famous figures for their own purposes. Oscar Wilde, 19th century playwright, said: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

Health Benefits- Contrary to popular belief, our forefathers (and mothers) did know a thing or two. There is increasing evidence to support the notion that journaling has a positive impact on physical well-being. University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health.

I know what you’re thinking: “So writing a few sentences a day may keep me healthier longer, but so will eating lima beans! Why should I bother journaling when I’ve already got too much on my plate?” The following facts may convince you.

Scientific evidence supports that journaling provides other unexpected benefits. The act of writing accesses your left brain, which is analytical and rational. While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to create, intuit and feel. In sum, writing removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you. Begin journaling and begin experiencing these benefits:

  • Clarify your thoughts and feelings. Do you ever seem all jumbled up inside, unsure of what you want or feel? Taking a few minutes to jot down your thoughts and emotions (no editing!) will quickly get you in touch with your internal world.
  • Know yourself better. By writing routinely you will get to know what makes you feel happy and confident. You will also become clear about situations and people who are toxic for you — important information for your emotional well-being.
  • Reduce stress. Writing about anger, sadness and other painful emotions helps to release the intensity of these feelings. By doing so you will feel calmer and better able to stay in the present.
  • Solve problems more effectively. Typically we problem solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. But sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging right-brained creativity and intuition. Writing unlocks these other capabilities, and affords the opportunity for unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
  • Resolve disagreements with others. Writing about misunderstandings rather than stewing over them will help you to understand another’s point of view. And you just may come up with a sensible resolution to the conflict.

In addition to all of these wonderful benefits, keeping a journal allows you to track patterns, trends and improvement and growth over time. When current circumstances appear insurmountable, you will be able to look back on previous dilemmas that you have since resolved.

How To Begin- Your journaling will be most effective if you do it daily for about 20 minutes. Begin anywhere, and forget spelling and punctuation. Privacy is key if you are to write without censor. Write quickly, as this frees your brain from “shoulds” and other blocks to successful journaling. If it helps, pick a theme for the day, week or month (for example, peace of mind, confusion, change or anger). The most important rule of all is that there are no rules.

How to start a journal – and keep it up

Writing or drawing every day can help you log your experiences and spark new ideas. Here's how to get into the swing of it  We're drawn to making our mark, leaving a record to show we were here, and a journal is a great place to do it. Once you start drawing, writing and gluing stuff in every day it can quickly become a habit – addictive, even. Your attitude should be: "I can do this, but I mustn’t make it too intimidating." It should all be easy to accomplish – here's how.

1. Time yourself- A good technique to avoid giving up or getting bored is to give yourself 10 minutes maximum per day to make your mark.  Ideally, you'll go to your journal every day, and that can feel repetitive, so tricks like this are great for making it feel more doable.

2. Do not fear the blank page- Start by thinking small, so it's not too overwhelming? You don't need to create a masterpiece; you just need to write or draw something in the journal every day to get into the swing of it. When you first sit down to try, you may think your life is pretty boring and you have nothing to put in your journal, but as you start to think harder, you'll realize how much you see each day.

When I first started, I challenged myself in little ways to just make marks on the page, setting easy tasks such as writing a list of everything I'd consumed in one day, or a list of five things I saw, heard, smelled, tasted or touched. Another favorite exercise was dripping a blob of ink on to a page and blowing it with a straw. It's so simple but incredibly satisfying to make spidery, tree-like shapes. As I began to see the pages fill up with images and ideas, I had this sense of: "Yes, I'm creating something."

3. Avoid screens- I find the experience of keeping a journal much more creative on paper than on a computer. When I write, I'm physically immersed in the world and slow down, whereas on screen, I use my senses in a less engaged way – and I skim more. Something different happens to my brain when I put pen to paper: the pace of writing or drawing slows you down and gives you more time for thoughts to come in.

A nice exercise is to write, or draw, as slowly as you can – it's so different from the usual way we get stuff out there – via tweets, texts or emails in easy chunks. Try pausing more often, and take your time to complete a sentence or draw a line, and you'll find it's a very different way of working.

4. Be destructive!- Give yourself permission to experiment, play around with material and make a mess. What does it feel like to rub dirt on the page? See what happens when you do. Above all, stop caring about the outcome. It doesn't have to be great, but exists as something you did that day.

The whole point is getting stuff on the page. Once it's out there, it can become fodder for other work; I had one page in a journal where I collected just white things, and it later became part of a short film – it's all material for other ideas.

5. Make your journal precious-A lot of people don't like to spend money on a journal because they're afraid to wreck it, which is understandable. I buy beautifully made leather-bound journals because I have lost my fear of the blank page.

My journals are precious in a different way. I love everything that comes out of them and I want them to last, to be durable. I don't worry about them getting wrecked, and I enjoy them more as they fill up. The more daring I get, the more unruly they become.

6. Collect everything- Anything you come across in daily life is great for a journal – a lot of my pages are full of artefacts I've glued in: a piece of paper I found on the ground that someone had discarded, labels from the Post Office, ticket stubs, anything with numbers on it, a thin piece of bright orange fencing from a construction site; anything where I really enjoy the color. All this stuff looks even better when you present it in a grid, or pair things together to see how they play off each other.

7. Make it random- I use a lot of chance in my work and try not to intervene too much – I'll just drop stuff onto the page and see what happens. One great collage exercise is getting a magazine or newspaper, something with lots of nice colour, then cutting out circles from several pages of it, so you have around 50 of them you can randomly play with; combine the colors, see how they mix and match or drop them randomly and glue where they fall. It's so fast to do and very satisfying.

8. Just try it- Often, we don't try things, because we think we know what's going to happen: we make assumptions about outcomes. When you keep a journal, you realize that the really interesting thing is not knowing what will happen, and discovering an unexpected result.

Resource content: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/22/how-to-start-journal-writing-drawing

Prompts to help with anxiety & depression:

  1. Write about a difficult time in your life that you overcame
  2. Describe how you want your life to look in 5, 10 and 20 years
  3. What are the three things that scare you the most and why?
  4. Name five moments when you were ecstatically happy
  5. What are three things you can do to help your mental health?
  6. When times get tough I want to remember that _______
  7. My greatest qualities are ________
  8. 10 things I feel thankful for are __________
  9. Right now my greatest challenge is ________
  10. This week I am looking forward to these three things _________
  11. On a scale of 1-10 my mental health is at a _____ because
  12. If I could meet anyone in the world I would like to meet _____ because
  13. Describe a situation where everything worked out for you
  14. Who has been your biggest supporter? Write that person a thank you letter
  15. Today my victories were:
  16. What was your biggest learning moment this week?
  17. Write a thank you letter to your body
  18.  If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go and why?
  19. Describe your biggest accomplishment and why it means so much to you
  20. No matter how terrible my day is these ten things can always make me feel better:
  21. The biggest lessons I’ve learned from anxiety are:
  22. If I didn’t have depression I would have never learned________________
  23. If I didn’t have any fear I would ________________
  24. What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
  25. What do you wish most people knew about you and why?
  26. What was your most embarrassing moment and why?
  27. A fear I would like to overcome is ________. I can do these things to start overcoming it:
  28. If you could change anything about yourself what would it be and why?
  29. Describe your happiest and saddest childhood memories
  30. If I could have any career I would be a __________ because:
  31. What was the last thing that made you feel deeply frustrated?
  32. How do you want to be remembered?
  33. Describe a time when you had to make a really hard choice
  34. What would your life be like if you didn’t have (depression, anxiety, etc)?
  35. What is a trait that you admire most in others? In what ways do you see that trait in yourself
  36. Name ten things you can start doing to take care of yourself?
  37. What are your ten worst habits and how do they impact your life?
  38. Describe a time when you sabotaged a good situation for yourself. Explore why you did that
  39. What would unconditional love look like for you? What would it feel like?
  40. If you had to pick one day to relive over and over for the rest of your life what would it be and why?
  41. Describe your perfect relationship
  42. How would you describe yourself to a stranger?
  43. What are your ten best talents?
  44. What was the best compliment you ever received?
  45. What is the most unique thing about you? Do you like to hide it or let it show?
  46. If you knew this was your last day on earth what would you do?
  47. Name ten songs that make you feel pumped
  48. If you could achieve anything in your lifetime what would it be?
  49. What friendship that you’ve had was the most meaningful?