These journaling tips have helped countless clients of mine improve their mental health.
When I was younger I would journal all the time I would spend countless hours in my room writing down my deepest and darkest thoughts trying to understand the world and all that it had in store for me. I would write about crushes, challenges at school, frustrations with my parents, and all of the emotions that surrounded my teenage years.
I would use my journal as a way to express myself. My journal was my confidant. It served as a stage to try out new conversations I wish I could have. It was with me when I broke up with my boyfriend who lived across the country. My journal was with me when my parents divorced. It was with me when my dad died. My journal has traveled with me through out several states and countries and has forever been my confidant and form of expression and reflection.
Journaling can be a helpful tool in managing your mental health. Here’s how this mindful practice can help you:
Cope with depression
Let go of difficult emotions
Reflect on your personal achievement
Prioritize life choices
A mindful journaling practice also requires a commitment to yourself. When writing in your journal it is best to focus on the processing of situations or emotions, rather then the reliving of upsetting emotions or upsetting events. So if a journaling practice proves to feel like it’s doing more harm than good, then it’s okay to stop. Journaling isn’t for everyone, and sometimes words alone are not enough to express what is felt deep inside.
So if words are not your cup of tea, it’s okay. You could also try using an art journal. Instead of writing words, you can collage images or words from magazines, paint, attach photos or keepsakes, sketch images, tape down objects in nature or items of beauty, and draw. An art journal can provide you with a different form of self expression in order to support your mental health.
Here’s a few quick tips to get you started in your journaling practice.
Make it a habit.
The more consistent we are with anything, the better we become at it. Using your journal in a consistent way, and at a consistent time, will offer you the most benefits from its practice.
I like to end my day with a 15-minute journal reflection. I put the kids to bed, get some comfy jammies on, brush my teeth and sit on my bedroom chair (sometimes with a cozy blanket and lit candle). It helps set the mood for reflection. I like to write about what I am grateful for, my goals for the week, my challenges and how I may solve them, and allow for emotions to wash over the page when I am feeling overwhelmed from the day. It’s my release. It’s my time to focus on what’s important, and it allows space for dreaming.
While my journaling practice works for me, your practice may look quite different. Perhaps the morning is a better time for getting ready for the day. Maybe a coffee house in the afternoon on your lunch break works better for you. Whatever your practice, make sure it fits your needs, so you can get the most out of its mental health benefits.
Keep it handy.
While my regular journaling practice happens at night, I also use it sporadically throughout the day. Because I never know when the mood may strike me to write down an idea or reflect on a session with one of my clients, I keep my journal with me. If carrying your journal with you feels uncomfortable and you are afraid of someone else getting ahold of it, then you can keep more than one journal.
You can have a journal in the evening for self reflection and emotional expression, and another journal for tasks, goal setting and ideas. This way you have a journal that fits your needs when you need it.
Create a judgement free zone.
Sometimes it feels like we are constantly being judged by those around us. Your journal should be a place where unconditional love lives freely.Start small. While my journaling practice has evolved over time, my time commitment waxes and wanes. Sometimes I only get 5 minutes to myself at the end of the day, other days I have no time at all. So when you start using journaling as a way to improve your mental health, remember to take it one small step at a time. You can set your timer for 5 minutes and ask three simple questions, “How do I feel? What do I need? What will I do to get what I need?”
Throughout many of the creative arts therapy explorations shared throughout these pages, you will find several journaling prompts. Feel free to use these journaling suggestions for mindful moments of reflection.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health disorder, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website for valuable resources to find help and support, or call the toll-free helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).