Key Takeaways

  • Journaling provides a wide range of mental health benefits including improved emotional expression, reduced stress, better decision-making, and enhanced self-awareness.
  • But contrary to what you might think, journaling doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. You can benefit from journaling just a few minutes a day.
  • Journaling can be a creative experience that involves more than just words. You can paint, draw, sketch, or create a collage as part of your journaling practice. 
Journaling is a powerful tool for improving mental well-being that almost anyone can use. By taking the time to express your thoughts and feelings by writing them down, you can increase your self-awareness, reduce stress, identify unhelpful patterns, and embrace a sense of gratitude.  And, you don’t have to follow a specific formula to reap the benefits of journaling. What’s most important is that you find a way to journal that works for you.   

Getting started with journaling  

You may think that journaling has to involve hours of recording the events of the day and processing each thought and feeling. But this couldn’t be further from the truth! You can make a helpful journal entry in as little as five minutes and you don’t have to do it every day to benefit from the practice. Of course, if you enjoy spending more time journaling, that’s ok too. If you aren’t in the habit of keeping a journal, here are some tips to get you started:
  • Choose the best time of day: Think about the times of day when journaling might be most helpful to you. For some, that’s first thing in the morning over a cup of coffee. For others, it’s the last thing they do before they go to sleep at night. When are you most likely to have the time, energy, and focus to journal?
  • Create a ritual: As you set aside dedicated time for journaling, look for ways to build a ritual to help reinforce your new habit. Pick an inviting spot in your home (or elsewhere) where you can sit comfortably and write. Maybe enjoy a warm, comforting cup of tea as you record your thoughts. Choose a meaningful photograph or picture to use as a bookmark in your journal.
  • Minimize distractions: When it’s time to journal, try to keep distractions at bay. Remember that this is your time to care for yourself and your mental health. So switch off your phone, turn off your TV or computer, and try to limit any other noise or interruptions that might make it hard for you to focus.

Explore different journaling methods to see what works best

There’s no right or wrong way to journal. But if you aren’t used to putting pen to paper to express yourself, you might not know where to begin.  Here are four methods to try as you set out to create your journaling practice:

1. Stream-of-consciousness writing:

Forget everything your teachers taught you about clauses, commas, and sentence structure. In stream-of-consciousness writing, your thoughts, feelings, and observations are written just as they occur in your mind. This free-flowing style of writing can give you a raw, unfiltered glimpse into the inner workings of your mind and help you better understand yourself.

2. Using creative outlets:

While most journaling relies on the written word, it can involve so many other creative elements! The saying is trite but true, sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. So don’t be afraid to draw, paint, collage, or sketch as part of your journaling practice. 

3. Write a letter:

Sometimes it can be helpful to write a letter to yourself or someone else that you may never send. Since your journal is for your eyes only, you can fully express yourself and freely document your uncensored thoughts and feelings. This can help you release painful memories, express gratitude to loved ones who are no longer with you, make an apology, and more.

4. Follow a prompt:

If you’re not sure what to write, try a journaling prompt:
  • Write a letter to your younger self. What advice would you give yourself as a child or teen? How could your provide your younger self with a sense hope and encouragement for the future?
  • Jot down your roses and thorns for the day. Roses are things that went well, made you smile, or that you’re grateful for. Thorns are the things you struggled with, were frustrated by, or that didn’t go according to plan. While it can be easier to identify the thorns, this practice trains your brain to look for the roses, too. 
  • Reflect on what was happening in your life approximately one year ago today. What was going on? What felt important to you at that time? What has changed since then? What have you learned? How have you grown? 

Maximizing the benefits of mental health journaling

When it comes to journaling for mental health, consistency is key. But like any new habit, creating a consistent journaling practice can take some time. So be patient with yourself as you build this practice into your routine.  In addition to carving out time to write new journal entries, be sure to make time to review and reflect on past entries. Be on the lookout for patterns and triggers that can help you better understand yourself and make note of your progress and personal growth. Taking this bird’s eye view of your past and present can give you a clearer picture of what might be shaping your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.   

Beyond journaling

From reducing stress to enhancing emotional expression, journaling provides a host of mental health benefits. And you don’t need anything other than a notebook and a pen to do it! Journaling can give you a better understanding of yourself and exploring these insights can be a healing experience that you process on your own.  Some people find it helpful to share what they glean from their journaling practice with a therapist, too. Want to learn more about how working with a professional can support your mental health journey?  Contact Rula today to get matched with a therapist who accepts your insurance — in as little as five minutes. 

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