What Journaling Can Do For Your Mental Health
You know the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? If there is one thing in this ever-divisive world that I think we can all agree on, it’s that life isn’t shy about handing out lemons.
Life is stressful – that is a given. Stress can sometimes make us feel overwhelmed and even powerless. Challenges are a given - yet the strength each of us possesses lies in how we respond to what life throws at us.
In 2019, I was a senior in high school – and I felt more stressed than I felt human. Like anyone at that stage in life, I was constantly asked about my plans after graduation and what career I wanted to pursue. My anxious thoughts followed me around constantly, and I couldn’t fall asleep at night because of my loud fears. I watched my peers make life-changing decisions about their paths after graduation, all the while feeling completely directionless despite having been promised a bright future.
In this anxiety-riddled season of my life, I turned to journaling as a way to cope. With my favorite pen, every night before I went to sleep I would write down all of my fears, worries, desires, and dreams in a spiral notebook. After my first entry, physically speaking I felt as though I had shed a layer of the burdens I was carrying. After a few nights, I noticed my brain to feel a little bit clearer, and my worried thoughts seemed quieter. I was even sleeping better.
I wasn’t intentionally trying to start a habit, but over time I found journaling so therapeutic that I almost couldn’t stop if I tried.
What is Journaling?
Simply put, journaling is taking what is floating around in your head and expressing those thoughts in writing. During challenging times in life, stress, anxiety, and other mental health complications arise in response. Often, this results in our heads swimming with worries and fears.
When we journal, we create private space to house any thoughts circling around our brains. Not only that, but the practice of writing can be therapeutic in itself. When we actively acknowledge ruminating thoughts and write them down on paper, we interrupt the destructive thought cycle.
Journaling can be a great tool to help cope with more chronic mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. If we are consistent with writing our thoughts down, over time we might start noticing patterns in the contents of our entries. What we repeatedly write about give us insight into our emotional tendencies (what types of things tend to stress us out) and our behavioral patterns (how we go about handling stressful events). Noticing our patterns allows us to better understand ourselves, and if it is something we continue to struggle with we can use what we have learned to seek outside help.
So, how does one start to journal? The University of Rochester Medical Center Encyclopedia offers some tips on getting started.
1. Make it a goal to write every day. Don’t worry about writing an essay, simply write a few sentences down each day about things that you feel are important.
2. Make journaling easy. Keep a notepad and pen on your dresser and make it a part of your morning or evening routine. Or, keep those items with you in your backpack, car, or wherever is most accessible. That way, you will be more likely to find the time to write.
3. Write down whatever feels right to you. Journaling doesn’t have to have structure. Or, if you are struggling with what to write down, many journals offer entry topics to spark ideas.
4. Private or public – it’s up to you. Remind yourself that this journal is for you. You don’t have to share it with anyone, or even tell others that you journal. On the other hand, if you find it helpful, you can choose to share it with someone you trust.
In the end, each of us can benefit from journaling. Whether we are caught up in daily stressors or struggling with deeper mental health issues, writing down our feelings helps interrupt cyclical thoughts and relieves mental tension. And, whether you journal for a daily debrief or to answer specific insightful prompts, you will undoubtedly experience the benefits of this easy healthy habit.