Did you know that keeping a journal or diary is good for your mental health? Psychology has proven that regularly writing down your thoughts or the events of your day can help with managing stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD and a wide variety of other mental health conditions. Plus, when these conditions are managed, the rest of your physical body will also reap the rewards. Since journaling is often both a creative and logical activity, it can engage your entire brain, training it to think differently. Through journaling, you can learn to manage your emotions better, identify personal struggles, create goals for yourself and simply become a healthier you. Here are some tips for getting started.
The best way to begin a journaling habit is to prepare yourself mentally, and create a good physical space where you’ll do it. Plan for success by doing the following:
- Set aside a regular time: You can journal every day, every week, or however often you want to start with—just make sure it’s a regular time, and block it off as a commitment like you would any other event or activity.
- Set a timer: Setting aside the length of time during the day can make beginning this habit much easier. Some people start with two minutes and others start with twenty. Do whatever feels possible and right to you, and time yourself. If journaling becomes something you love to do, you can always add more time.
- Set aside a specific place: Ideally, you should journal in a private place, whether that’s your bedroom, your office, your closet or even your bathroom. Get away from any and all distractions so you can focus, and let this place become a refuge for you.
Set A Goal, And Do Your Best to Stick with It
Journaling is an incredibly valuable and private habit to cultivate, but it’s easy to get caught up in the details and the outward appearance of it. So set a goal to journal, and try your best to keep that goal, so long as it stays healthy and beneficial for you, even when it gets tough. Oftentimes, sticking with a journaling goal means adhering to some structure, but allowing yourself to stray if you need to. For example, if your goal is to journal for twenty minutes, but you tap out at ten, be kind to yourself and take it easy that day!
It’s also helpful to remember that this journaling practice is for you, and no one else.Your goal here isn’t to write something perfect or world-changing. Your goal is to get into your personal thoughts and get to know yourself better. It doesn’t matter if you’re a “good writer” or not. Your journal won’t judge you. A great rule to set that will encourage you to write whatever you want is to not let anyone else read your journal. This journal has the potential to contain the innermost thoughts of your mind, and nobody else needs to know those thoughts unless you decide to tell them.
Let the Blank Page Encourage You
Many people stop their journaling practice before it even begins because the blank page in front of them intimidates or discourages them. There are many reasons for this, like not knowing where to start, wanting to follow some set rules that you don’t know or wanting to seem perfect at this habit from the beginning. Some people are afraid of their thoughts or of engaging with emotions and facing the challenges of the day. The important thing to remember here is that this is a safe place. It’s just you and the page in front of you. The possibilities are literally endless.
Journaling is an opportunity to step back from the world around you and get to know yourself as you truly are, imperfections and all. It doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, most people who regularly journal consider it to be one of the most liberating things they do, like a breath of fresh air or moment of slowness, peace and quiet in the midst of the busyness. So let go of your preconceptions and expectations, and just start. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you do it. Don’t edit yourself, just write freely and don’t hold back. You don’t even need to start with words—sometimes, a simple doodle can help express thoughts and feelings that words can’t. If it’s more your style, you could even make an audio or video journal in which you just talk to a camera or voice recorder. You will find over time that you have more courage to face and handle your thoughts and emotions, and you’ll get to know yourself better than you ever have before.
Consider starting your journaling practice with a notebook and a pen or pencil (the kind you use doesn’t matter). Many people journal on their computers, and that’s fine, but studies have shown a marked creative and productive difference between writing with pen and paper and typing on a computer. If you wish, you can move to typing your journal on your computer later. But if starting on a computer seems more feasible for you, that’s fine, too!
Start With An Established Method
Journaling has become popular recently in mainstream culture because of the increased awareness of how it can improve mental health, organization skills and creativity. That means that even if the blank page intimidates you, you’re not alone, and there are tons of resources out there to help you get started. Many techniques exist that you can use, along with an endless supply of journaling prompts that can help you get your thoughts flowing. One of the most popular methods in recent years is bullet journaling, which incorporates a set of note bullets that you can use for different organizational purposes, from longform brain-dumps, to grocery lists, to to-do lists. Other things you can do to create a structure for your journaling practice include:
- Logging reading time: Journal notes on books or interesting articles that you read.
- Creating gratitude lists: Take time each day to write about some things you’re thankful for.
- Recording a spiritual journey: If you’re religious or you regularly meditate, your journal is an ideal place to write down the insights you learn from spiritual experiences.
- Writing about your day: Record the activities of everything from your day-to-day work and home life to vacations or outings to the goals you’re working to accomplish.
- Writing about relationships: The people in our lives are often at the tops of our minds, and journaling can help you evaluate your relationships. Through journaling, you can understand other people and yourself better and continue to build your relationships or decide which ones you might want to let go of.
- Writing about distractions: Many people think they can’t journal because they get too easily distracted. But distractions have a place in journaling, and sometimes journaling can help you find answers to questions or problems you weren’t even thinking about. So while you’re journaling, make a space to write down the things that distract you, and then come back to them later. Don’t ignore them—make them a part of your process.
An important thing to continue to tell yourself every day and every time you journal is this: your thoughts and feelings matter. They’re worth writing down and analyzing. You are worth spending time with. You can reap incalculable benefits from writing about anything from seemingly minor details of your day to the deepest longings of your heart. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something new and valuable about yourself! The important thing is to just get started, even if you start with only a sentence per day and the rest of the time you spend is just you staring at the paper. The hardest part is just showing up.
We’re Here to Help
If you’re ready to make a goal like this that will improve your well-being, or you’re interested in exploring other ways to improve your mental health, make an appointment with us today. We’re here to walk with you through every aspect of your wellness journey.