Journaling for mental health

Keeping a mental health journal can help you to cope with a host of challenges, including depression, anxiety, stress, and more. Journaling can be as basic as writing down what’s on your mind, allowing you to understand your emotions and thoughts. It can be a powerful tool for making sense of your feelings, allowing for self-reflection and ways to change and grow.

The benefits of keeping a mental health journal

1. Reduces anxiety – by expressing your fears and anxieties, it will become easier to work through them, helping you to take control.

2. Relieves depression and other mood disorders – by recognising negative thoughts, you can work through them and change them for more positive ones.

3. Stress management – as it allows you to become calmer and see stressors in a new light, allowing you to manage them better.

4. Eating disorder recovery ­- as it can help you to increase your sense of control and deal with troublesome thoughts and feelings.

5. Emotional expression – provides a safe way to explore and express difficult emotions to help improve your mood and is an excellent way to stay grounded.

6. Improved clarity and problem-solving – allows you to develop new perspectives so you can see problems differently and look for alternative solutions.

7. Healthy habit formation – will allow you to identify unhelpful patterns, brainstorm action plans and the steps needed to achieve them. Track your achievements along the way and reflect on how the changes are impacting your life.

8. Goal setting and vision creation – explore what gives you a sense of meaning and fuels your passions. By identifying your desires, you can take positive actions to achieve them.

Journaling tips

For journaling to be most effective, don’t just focus on the negative emotions and feelings. You need to include thoughts and information to help understand yourself and your challenges. Here are seven tips to help you get started with journaling:

1. Forget about rules – there is no wrong way to journal, this is your own personal experience. Don’t worry about things like spelling as this will just block your flow.

2. Drop judgments – you may feel guilty about the feelings you are expressing or even taking time for yourself to journal. You may be worried about creating a journal that meets a certain standard, but remember this is not an assignment, it’s an opportunity to freely express your feelings.

3. Experiment to find what suits you – this could be a notebook, laptop, phone, or art journal. If one form doesn’t work, try another, or you may wish to use different forms on different days.

4. Set a time limit if needed – if you’re struggling for time, even a few minutes can be beneficial. Worrying about the time or pressuring yourself to write for a long time can block your flow. You may decide to journal daily, or a few times a week. You may prefer to do it in the morning, to set out your goals for the day, or in the evening to reflect on your day.

5. Know your purpose – as this can help streamline the process, making it easier to know what to write about. This could include developing healthy habits, overcoming certain obstacles, finding meaning, discovering more about your true self, or something else that is unique to you.

6. Make it a pleasant, mindful ritual – turn your journaling experience into something you look forward to doing. Pick a dedicated space in your home and add ambience, such as soft lighting or candles. If you love music, set the mood with your favourite tunes, or pour your favourite healthy beverage. Choose a journal that makes you smile or use a special pen. Practice mindfulness by removing distractions whilst you journal so you can be fully present.

7. Celebrate – embrace journaling as a strength and see it as an action step. You are taking charge of your mental health. Reinforce this positive action by adding something pleasant to your experience as a celebration. It will activate the reward centre of your brain, releasing dopamine which gives you a mental health boost. Look back on previous entries and describe the progress you have made.

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