As teenagers, most of us kept diaries. We used to write what we were going through and then hide them somewhere safe. A diary was the only place we could confess our fears and struggles without being judged or punished by anyone.
It really felt good getting all of those thoughts and emotions out of your chest and down on paper. Everything seemed clearer after performing this exercise.
Most of us stopped using diaries when we reached adulthood. As an adult, you are faced with struggles on a daily basis which may result in stress, anxiety, and depression. Journaling is as important today as it were during your teenage years.
In fact, it is much more important for you to start doing it now especially if you have children. If you are stressed or depressed, your children will definitely be affected.
Journaling helps you gain control of your emotions. It improves your mental health. Today, we are going to discuss how to journal for mental health. But first, let’s understand effective journaling and its benefits.
Effective Journaling Defined
Effective journaling is a practice that helps you achieve your goals or improve the quality of your life. Every person has different perspectives and expectations when it comes to journaling. However, the effects are always positive.
Journaling helps in clearing the mind and making crucial connections between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Mental illness is also reduced drastically. You might be asking yourself how a piece of paper and a pen can impact your mental health. It is surprising that such a simple practice does work. Especially for those people struggling with mental illness.
Journaling uses both the left brain and the right brain. It requires an individual to use the logical left side of the brain. While the lefts side is occupied, the right side which is normally the creative and emotional side is given the freedom to play and wonder. Journaling enhances and expands your creativity which makes a huge difference in your life.
Benefits of Journaling
Journaling or writing in an expressive way boosts the mood of individuals, enhances a sense of well-being, reduces the symptoms of depression before a crucial event such as an exam or job interview, reduces avoidance and intrusion symptoms and improves memory.
Journaling is really beneficial to those with a history of trauma or PTSD. Creative writing enhances mental health by guiding a person to face his or her inhibited feelings. It helps him or her analyze difficult or painful events and compose a clear narrative about his or her experience.
For those without traumatic experiences, writing is still beneficial to their mental health. Writing can make you aware of sneaky unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors before they take control of you. It helps in putting things in proper perspective. In fact, writing helps in shifting from a negative mindset to a positive one thus improving your self-esteem.
For journaling to impact your mental health positively, you need to have an appropriate method in place. Simply writing words on a page may feel wonderful at the moment but there is little proof that it will enhance your well-being and decrease your depression symptoms.
Journaling for Mental Health
The following tips will ensure your journaling or expressive writing is comprehensive and constructive thus beneficial to your mental health:
- Write in a personalized space that has no distractions
- Write at least three times in a day
- After writing, give yourself enough time to reflect
- If you are journaling to overcome trauma, you do not have to write about the traumatic event. Write about what you are feeling at the moment.
- Structure your writing the way you want.
- Your journal is private. It belongs to you – not your therapist, spouse, family or friends. You can always discuss your experience with your therapist.
The Center for Journal Therapy has an effective journaling guideline that can help you improve your mental health. When you are journaling, keep in mind this simple acronym: WRITE
- W – What are you writing about? Think of your thoughts and feelings and what is going on in your life right now. Think of your goals and what you are trying to avoid. Write it down on paper.
- R – Reflect or review. Take a moment and be still. Breath calmly and focus. In this step, mindfulness or meditation is important. When writing, focus on the present moment with sentences such as “Today…”, “In this moment…” Start your sentences with “I” statements such as “I think…”, “I feel…”
- I – Investigate your thoughts and emotions through writing. Just keep writing. If you feel you have written everything or your mind starts wandering, take a moment and reflect. Meditate. Or read what you have written and keep on writing.
- T – Time yourself. Write for at least five minutes or whatever time your therapist has advised you. Write your start time and the projected end time at the top of your page. Set an alarm or timer.
- E – Exit in a strategic way with introspection. Go through what you have written and take a moment to review and reflect. Sum up everything in one or two sentences. Start with statements like, “As I read this, I feel…”, “I am aware of…” If you have an action plan or a series of steps to follow, write them down.
The Science Behind Journaling or Expressive Writing
The outcomes of journal writing are evident across the world. Journaling is very effective in helping people identify and accept their thoughts and emotions, manage stress and reduce or eliminate the symptoms of mental illness.
It has been revealed that journaling affects physical well-being. Michael Grothaus, an avid writer and journalist, notes that journaling strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, improves the quality of your sleep and keeps you healthier in general.
There are other benefits for people struggling with mental issues.
Journaling Can Help You Manage Depression
Journaling is an effective tool in helping a person manage his or her depressive symptoms, according to a report published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Keep in mind that journaling is not a substitute for professional help especially when depression is severe. However, it can be used together with various forms of therapy treatment.
Journal writing has proved to manage depression in the following ways:
- Journal writing reduces depression symptoms in women who are struggling with the effects of intimate partner violence.
- Writing a journal is as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy when it comes to reducing depression symptoms in adolescents.
- In some cases, expressive writing may not decrease the frequency of intrusive thoughts in depressed people but it can moderate depressive symptoms hence reduce the symptoms.
- Journaling can reduce brooding and rumination among college students. Brooding and rumination are the biggest factors of depressive symptoms.
- Individuals diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder reported lower depression scores after only 3 days of journal writing, twenty minutes every day.
- Journal writing gives them an avenue to release negative thoughts and emotions and create a positive state of mind which ultimately leads to a sense of well-being.
Journaling and Anxiety
Journaling is well-suited to help you deal with anxiety. It always has positive outcomes. Barbara Markway, a popular psychologist says that there is no better way to understand your thoughts and emotions than to write them down. To address any problem, you have to know what it is first. Journaling is a tool that helps in identifying the problem and getting it out.
Expressive writing positively affects your anxiety through:
- Clearing and calming the mind.
- Releasing negative feelings and stress.
- Releasing negative thoughts.
- Enabling you to explore your experiences with anxiety.
- Helping you understand your successes and struggles.
- Enhancing self-awareness and understanding about your triggers.
- Tracking the progress of your treatment.
Journaling has helped students suffering from anxiety by improving their engagement and enhancing meaning in the classroom.
Journaling and Stress Management
Journaling is a great tool for anyone who wants to manage his or her stress to prevent it from pushing him or her to anxiety and depression. Keeping a journal will help you understand your emotions, connect thoughts and experiences and release tension. Additionally, it can help you do away with sources of stress to reach your goals.
Journaling can help you manage stress through:
- Improving the functions of your mind.
- Decreasing or eliminating several health conditions.
- Strengthening the immune system.
- Proper planning through considering several possible outcomes of a situation.
- Decreasing rumination while enhancing the action.
Journaling and Recovery
Journaling can help you heal fast regardless of the event, disorder or habit you are struggling with. If you are struggling with the effects of trauma, expressive writing will enable you to see the good side of life. It can change your perspective and help you discover the advantages of the trauma you are experiencing which ultimately reduces severe symptoms that come with trauma.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, journal writing can be a source of your healing and recovery. Keeping a journal will help you stop avoiding issues and instead confront them head-on.
If you are grappling with a psychiatric condition, expressive writing can help you understand your thoughts and stop worrying over them. This will ultimately free up your mind to cope with stress and manage your feelings.
One of the most traumatic events is the death of a loved one. Journaling can help you deal with this as well.
Expressive writing will give you a chance to think about the loss and reduce severe symptoms that come with grief. This works even for children dealing with the loss of a loved one.
To fully recover, journaling is an important exercise because it allows you to write your thoughts and emotions. Doing this maintains and solidifies your identity. It gives you a chance to reflect on your experiences and rediscover yourself.
When You Have No Idea What to Write About
Some days, you will simply have no idea what to write about. You should not put your journal away if this is the case. Here are a few suggestions:
Describe an experience – Sometimes, all you can do to start writing is describing what you worked on today or what you thought about. You will definitely have more to say than you thought.
Affirmation – When you have run out of ideas and your self-esteem is low, write affirmations such as, “I like myself” or “I am a great writer.” After this exercise, you will find something to write about and at the same time, boost your confidence and enhance your well-being.
Gratitude – Writing with gratitude works like magic. Write about the people and everything in your life that you are grateful for. Gratitude will help you get ideas to write on and enhance your well-being.
Self-Analysis – Ask yourself deep questions such as “Who am I?”, “What did I do right today?” and “What will I do differently next time?” Once you answer these questions, ideas will start flowing in your mind.
Journaling has many positive outcomes for everyone. However, it has its negative side such as dragging up memories that you forgot, overwhelming emotions and pushing you into introspectiveness. The good news is that its benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
Journaling can help you manage stress, anxiety, and depression. It is a tool that can improve your mental health. And you do not need to be a terrific writer to write down your thoughts and emotions.
Remember, your journal is private. Keep it somewhere safe after use. And write every single day.