When it comes to staying mentally healthy, one of the best techniques has been around for hundreds of years: journaling. Keeping a journal is a great way to reflect on life events, develop new insights, and clear your mind of worry or unhealthy thoughts. Learn how to journal effectively to bring yourself clarity and mental balance.
Benefits of Journaling for Mental Health
People have been drawn to journaling throughout time. Modern science points to why we may have an innate desire to write about our lives. Numerous scientific studies have shown that keeping a journal lowers depression and anxiety, helps you process traumatic events, and promotes healthy coping skills in the face of cancer or other chronic illnesses. Even if you haven’t kept a diary since middle school, it is worth picking up the habit again.
So What Should I Write?
One of the most common questions among would-be journalers is “What should I be writing about?” The simple answer is that there is no right or wrong way to journal. Often, the things we feel most compelled to write about are those that we are struggling with or need to work through. This means that you may be naturally drawn to the topics that will best help you get to a more mentally balanced place. Follow these tips to get started:
- Write every day. Perhaps the hardest part of getting started is making journaling part of your daily routine. Writing every day is the best way to make journaling effective for your mental health. If possible, set aside the same time every day to make sure you get a chance to journal. This could be the last thing before bed, over a lunch break, or as soon as you get home from work.
- Make it easy for yourself. If journaling becomes another onerous chore, you’re not going to be motivated to do it. One of the best things about digital journaling is that your journal is always available to you. If you have a spontaneous thought while sitting in a parking lot or waking up in the middle of the night, you can easily write it down.
- Practice non-judgment of your writing. It’s tough to reread things that you wrote years or even a few weeks ago. Don’t let that prevent you from journaling. If you’re finding yourself judging the things you write about, simply remind yourself that your writing is a reflection of the things you are feeling right now. Your journal doesn’t have to be eloquent or a font of wisdom.
- “Lean in” to emotional or distressing events. If you find yourself shying away from writing about certain topics, avoid that instinct! This can be a sign of emotional avoidance, in which we fail to let ourselves fully experience the emotions surrounding a difficult event. Instead, “lean in” to the emotions. Even if you feel vulnerable experiencing the emotions, let them out in the journal.
Look for Patterns in Your Writing
After you have been journaling for a week or two, look for patterns in your writing. For instance, if you tend to worry about things, take note of when you worried the most. What were you doing? Did you get stuck in a cycle of rumination? What did you do in response? Were there other times when you didn’t worry? What were you doing then?
Practicing this type of self-reflection allows you to understand the triggers for unhealthy thoughts or behaviors. Perhaps you got a negative review at work, causing you to think, “I’m worthless at this job. I can’t do anything right.” This caused you to make more mistakes at work and to feel angry at yourself. When you got home that day, you got into a fight with your spouse and yelled at your kids. Noticing these patterns allows you to try new approaches in the future. For instance, you could go for a walk or play with your dog to lift your mood or break a cycle of rumination.
The more you journal, the more you will take note of healthy and unhealthy life patterns. Then, you can use this knowledge to change your thoughts and actions to achieve greater mental balance.