Journaling for Mental Health
Everyone Has Stress
Everyone has stress and anxiety. The key to improving your mental health is having the right tools to do so. Journaling is a great way to identify your stress and live a calmer, happier life. You don't need a fancy notebook or fancy pens, you just have to grab some paper or a blank document on your computer and you're all set.
Not sure where to begin? I've got you covered.
Start by Writing in the Morning
Start writing right when you get up. Grab some coffee, a piece of toast. Then sit down and write. I learned of this method through "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. She calls them Morning Pages. It's more of an exercise designed for blocked writers but it will help anyone.
You get to write whatever you want. You can write about the things you did yesterday. You can write about your plans for today. You can write about how you're so excited for that road trip at the end of the month and what you're planning to pack. You just get to ramble on and on without worrying what you're writing. Nothing you write is too silly or too trivial. This is all for you. Write what you want to write.
Cameron recommends 3 pages longhand writing in a notebook. If you're new to journaling this can often feel like a lot. It's that much because that's what it takes to push you out of your comfort zone. To really get in touch with your feelings about what is going on around you. You feel excited about that road trip but there are some anxieties in there too. You can identify your fears before you even get on the road and hopefully create some solutions before problems ever pop up. Use your morning pages to create to-do lists. It will help you feel less anxious.
I do my morning writing through the website 750words.com. Basically some guys figured out that 3 longhand pages equate to about 750 words. There's a small fee for the website (I got in before they started charging) but you can write 750 words in any word processing program on your computer.
I do run out of things to say. So I often repeat myself, I often circle back to things I've already talked about. That's okay. No one is ever going to read it, probably not even me. That brings me to another point. Don't read your morning pages. Just don't. If there's anything you need to remember write it on a separate piece of paper while you're doing it.
I've started adding affirmations to my morning writing. "I am in control." "I am smart." "I'm good at writing." "I will have a great day today." "I will be healthy." That sort of stuff. It felt silly the first few times I did it but now it just feels like when athletes psych themselves up for a big game. It will make you feel good about yourself and it takes up space when you can't think of anything else to write.
Keep a Journal Throughout the Day
Write a little bit every time you have a spare moment. I personally think the Bullet Journal system is great for this. As the day goes on write the things you're doing, what you're thinking about, and stuff that you need to do. You only have to worry about one day at a time.
I also use this system. I write down when I wake up, what I eat for breakfast. I track whether my morning writing got done and if I had enough motivation to wash my face.
If you're not ready for that level of commitment all you need is a day planner. Just write out what you did during the day. "Went and saw a Star Wars with friends." "No motivation so I ate lunch at McDonalds."
Using a method like this really helps you put your day in perspective. I work in retail and I know that a bad customer can ruin my mood for the whole day. But with a system like this I can see that my day was great before the customer and usually my day is great after the customer.
Keeping a planner with you at all times can help prevent anxiety because if you suddenly realize you're out of milk you can write it down so later when you're at the store and you're like "I know I needed something." You can just pull your journal out, flip to your shopping list and everything is fine.
When you make appointments write them down with the place and the time. I get so anxious that I'm going to be late or go to the wrong place. I have to write down every detail. That way I can check it and know that I'm okay.
This is also good for things that happened in the past. Like "When did I get these library books? Are they going to be late?" No, I just checked them out a week ago. I'm fine.
Write About Anxieties as They're Happening
When I get anxious about something I start to obsess. I'll run a scenario over and over in my mind trying to figure out what went wrong and how I can fix it for next time. But then it goes beyond that and it kind of ruins my day.
If I start feeling like this I'll write my anxiety down on a piece of paper and stick it in my pocket. I tell myself that I can obsess over it later when I get home and when I'm not surrounded by customers and coworkers. I guess I worry I'll forget about it and not learn from the mistakes of the situation. So I tell myself that since it is written down I can't forget about it. This isn't something I need to remember for the long term so a piece of paper does just what I need it to. I can throw it away when I get home and I'm feeling less anxious.
The Brain Dump
This method is great for people who have trouble sleeping due to anxiety. I have this problem because I worry I'm going to forget something important. So I just keep thinking about these important things until I am exhausted and finally fall asleep.
Just write everything down on a sheet of paper. Don't worry about punctuation, spelling, anything. Just get everything down on the paper. Sometimes you'll think you have it all and then there is a little more. Shut the light off and lay down. Let yourself turn it back on to write some more stuff down. Just keep doing this until everything is out of your head. Tell yourself it's on the paper. You will be able to read through it in the morning. Don't even worry about organizing it. That's for your morning brain to worry about.
I really like this system. Sometimes there is just too much in my brain and I'll obsess about situations. I worry about stuff that has already happened and stuff that I think is going to happen and really I just get into a cycle of overthinking.
Find the System or Routine that's Right for You
I use all of these at different times. I do morning pages and keep a bullet journal. I usually write my anxieties in my bullet journal now that I have one instead of on scrap paper. But I am able to have my bullet journal with me at all times.
Once you get into a routine you'll find you are able to sleep better, even if you aren't doing a brain dump at night. Maintaining a journal with to-do lists and appointment reminders means that you don't have to constantly remind yourself of them. You can write it down and delete it from your brain.
If you talk through your anxieties in your morning pages you no longer have to obsess about that customer who was rude to you last Monday. You can let it go.
How Do You Journal?
Are there any other tricks you use? What time of day is your favorite for journaling? What makes you want to keep journaling on a daily basis?
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