Journaling for Mental Health
Why this is a New Years Resolution you should consider keeping in 2020
I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital in 2014 and then again in 2016.
The first time I did it I was a year clean and sober, also I was insane. Riddled with feelings and no functional behavioral strategies to handle them. The second time, I was exhausted, depressed and tired of functional behavioral strategies. During this admission, I began journaling. It started by accident during a group therapy session on ‘emotional coping’. My first page is below, I clearly was a bit overwhelmed. I did not know that I was setting up a practice that would afford me insight, healing, and sanity.
The reality is, in these fast-paced times it can be very easy to get caught up in the daily grind. Get up, smash a coffee, commute to work scrolling social media, work your ass off all day, commute again, try to exercise, chores, Netflix, pass out — rinse and repeat. Add a couple of kids into the mix and it’s even harder to carve out time for you. I know this kind of living for me, creates a big disconnect from self — I fall into autopilot, survival mode and then start to feel flat because life becomes Groundhog Day. I fail to notice the things in life that I’m grateful for, the things that are hard, seem even harder and I begin to fixate on externals, if I just had this, that and the other thing, my life would be better — you know how it goes. When I’m not journaling, I become a human DOING — not a human BEING.
I used to journal as a kid and in my teens although, I lived in perpetual fear that someone would find it and then the world know the ghastly truth about the schoolyard bully or the fiver I nicked from Mum’s handbag. Because that’s what the world is interested in. The fear of being found out or being vulnerable led me writing in censored ways or just freaking out and sticking my memoirs in the fireplace. Woe betides anyone who discovered the inner workings of my freakish adolescent mind.
As an adult, I am a bit more realistic about the fact that nobody really gives a rat’s ass about the inner workings of my freakish mind. These days, I journal just for me and I strongly doubt it excites anyone enough to bother reading it.
WHY DOES IT HELP?
Studies carried out by the University of Rochester’s Medical Centre indicate that journaling for mental health can support you to manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression. It can do this by allowing you to prioritise your concerns and fears — you can see what is actually within your scope of control and what isn’t. You can see how your mental health symptoms manifest on a daily basis, which may even help you recognise what triggers them. Journaling can also help you identify negative or self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors.
For me, I sometimes jot down things that have popped up during the day that I’ve felt resistance toward or ways I’ve conducted myself that I’m not proud of — whether it’s giving someone the bird in traffic or telling an outright lie — the reason I do this is not to beat myself up for being a shit human, but to search for themes and patterns that occur when I’m not running well. I also keep a note of practical things that I did that day e.g. was I at work?, did I exercise?, what I ate, what did I do to unwind?, who did I see? etc. these things help when I look back on my entries — if I haven’t done practical things to take care of myself, it can be easier to understand why I might be feeling a bit below average.
I find it really helpful to write down the things during the day that have moved or touched me. It could be seeing the sunrise that morning, a laugh with the coffee shop guy or even a simple observation about someone I care about. The things that make me tick tell me a lot about who I am and what I value.
BUT HOW DO I START?
Starting the habit of keeping a journal can feel a bit odd to some. I sometimes feel I have bugger all to put in there of an evening although once I pick up a pen and start listing the days' events, my feelings or realisations the outpour generally starts. By the time I am ready to go to sleep, I feel lighter and often less attached to anything that may have grabbed me throughout the day.
Thrive with Janie has beautiful ideas and rationale for journaling promoting self-love through self-understanding and compassion. She provides her readers with some journaling prompts that act as great starting points for journal entries.
Journal keeping and how it is done depends on the person you are, do you like to write and just let it pour out as a stream of consciousness? Do you prefer structure? Are bullet points easier for you? I know people who love physically putting pen to paper — I do, because I like to doodle and draw. Some people like to type on their devices. It doesn’t matter how you write it as long as it helps you.
WHAT HAS IT DONE FOR ME?
Remember how I mentioned that I was tired of behavioral strategies when I checked myself into the hospital for the second time?
I’m not knocking any kind of behavioral strategies, they saved my life — but the thing journaling did for me was help me create my OWN behavioral strategies.
How did journaling do this? It helped me get to know myself on a much deeper level. The practice has created self-awareness and an ability to understand what drives me, what I love and what I don’t. Knowing that I have an outlet allows me to be more present and truly connect with the world around me.
I try to read my entries once a fortnight because it gives me an opportunity to learn from my experiences and processes during that time. Yeah sure, it can be irksome at times to reflect on my inner ramblings, however, but it reminds me that what I believed and felt at the time of an entry almost always evolves into something else with time or even disappears with time.
A quote from Eckhart Tolle’s; the Power of Now always sticks in my mind when find myself not wanting to journal and ultimately avoiding myself — it reminds me that the kindness most generous gift I can give myself and those I love is to truly know and honour myself: “To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the joy, and love underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.” Now, that’s some pretty enticing incentive to get to know yourself, right?
Being honest with myself and knowing myself allows me to have a life where I can be congruent and real. There is so much freedom in that.
As I’m sure you are aware, journaling is just one aspect of maintaining one’s mental health. If you are struggling with your mental health, please reach out to your GP or Mental Health Professional. IG @auntysal_au
Excerpt: The Power of Now A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. (2018, June 20). Retrieved from https://www.eckharttolle.com/power-of-now-excerpt/
Journal Prompts for Self Love and Mental Health. (2019, October 15). Retrieved from https://thrivewithjanie.com/journal-prompts-for-self-love-and-mental-health/
Journaling for Mental Health — Health Encyclopaedia — University of Rochester Medical Center. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1