Journaling: A Mental Health Wonder? Or Just A Fad?
A moment of calm. You've carved out 10 quiet minutes for yourself. It's just you, your mind and your notebook. Notice that I separated you and your mind. Because you are not your thoughts.
I don't think we realise that we are frequently in a state of auto-pilot, travelling through the day without paying conscious attention to our wandering mind and its many thoughts.
The beauty of journalling lies in its ability to transform your mind, re-frame your thinking, and ultimately change the course of your day for the better. By taking a moment to actively focus on the things in life that you are grateful for, you set the parametrer for your day, and overtime you begin to notice a shift in your natural way of thinking.
You wake up, and you feel grateful for that moment alone. Instead of jumping out of bed to begin your day, you pause for a moment of reflection. As you grab your journal from your bedside, your breathing slows, and you feel a sense of deep peace. And that's before you've even begun journalling. Anticipating the fulfilling experience, is part of the fun.
Through the process of drawing out your thoughts, you make space for gratitude and you can find yourself making sense of things that have been swirling around in your mind for a while. The therapeutic release of offloading thoughts from your mind becomes addictive. Feeling good becomes addictive.
Journalling is a chance to reflect on challenging thoughts, and it also makes space to really embrace the small things in life, as well as celebrating your successes instead of moving onto the next thing, and just generally heighten that wonderful feeling of happiness.
You might find that when you first step out for the day, your senses are alive. You move through the day with ease, clarity and purpose. You own your mind, and you decide how you think, how you feel, and how you respond. You are patient and in control - and it's liberating.
What is Journaling?
Quite simply, journalling is the process of putting pen to paper whilst you write down how you feel. There's various ways of journalling, depending how long you wish to dedicate to it, and what makes you feel good. You can spend anywhere from 3 minutes, all the way up to 30 minutes or more.
With this concept of journalling, it's really easy to get carried away - but in the best way possible. It's quite easy to compare this to your past 'Dear Diary' self - and to be honest, the concept is quite similar as you just free flow your thoughts onto paper.
In fact, when you were young do you remember when you were so engaged in the moment, fully focussed on yourself and whatever you chose to do in that moment, say painting or building lego. Time just flew by and you felt so content. Well, journalling really pulls you back into this rewarding headspace, of intense internal focus. You are not re-living the past, or anxiously worrying about the future. You are in the present moment, right where you should be.
For me, this is the best type of journalling for anxiety relief. I can't tell you the amount of times I've used this technique. I usually like to talk to my closest family and friends when I have something troubling me, but when I turn to journalling and release my thoughts, fears and insecurities, I really feel a deep physical release, like real weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Because there's no holding back. I can write until my mind is completely empty, and it's quite satisfying, because I didn't rely on anyone else to get me there.
I sometimes write for an hour. Emptying the full contents of my mind onto the paper. In no particular order. My mind runs so fast that my hand can barely keep up. By the time I'm done, I barely have a thought left. My mind is completely clear. I can tell you this is a euphoric feeling.
Every month or so I get the urge to do this, when I've had a bad day, or a few bad thoughts have built up - and I feel the need to clear my mind again. Or my head just feels cluttered and confused. It's usually at night time that I perform this task, and I have the best nights sleep afterwards.
I've tried to make a conscious effort to adopt this habit when good things happen too - because these moment's feel even better when they are embraced, and it's always interesting looking back over your journal. It's like reading someone else's diary - you sometimes can't identify with these thoughts anymore and it's a fascinating way to validate your growth.
All you need is a simple dated notebook and pen:
I like to daily journal via the form of a guided journal which is completed in the morning, and before you go to bed. This is the best style of journalling for daily gratitude, it trains your mind to have a 'glass half full' approach to your day. The good feelings from your practice ripple out through your day, and the more you practice the more gratitude grows and even the most mundane of days leave you feeling fulfilled.
I like to use the 'Five minute journal' (below). It features inspirational thoughts and daily prompts that you answer, and the questions are the same each day. Such as:
'I am grateful for'
'What would make today great'
'3 amazing things that happened today'
'What would make today even better?'
This self journal really prompts you to think on a practical and granular level. You may start off with large thoughts, such as 'I am grateful for my home, my partner, my dog'. But as time goes on, your mind starts to delve into the smaller things, like 'the taste of my morning coffee, the sound of running water, the feeling of a hug'.
This is why this method is so transformative. Because you start to notice the little things throughout your day, and make a mental note to jot this down later. You'll be surprised what you start to notice, and this is a very grounding experience. You might find that unexpected parts of life become enjoyable, and that traffic jams and supermarket shops don't frustrate you in the same way they would. You build patience, and resilience. You appreciate the fact that you are even here to experience these things.
I highly encourage you to give this a go, you might be surprised.
One line a day journalling
If you don't feel the above works for you, or it's too much time investment for you at the moment, but you are interested in the concept - 'One Line A Day' journalling might be for you.
This portable and practical little book is perfect for a quick little journal session. Whether that be a memory you want to preserve, an emotion or a feeling, jot it down in here - and build up a memory book. You could even use it to write down one thing you are grateful for each day - or one thing that made today great.
It does take dedication - but imagine how rewarding it would be to look back over this in a few years time!
The benefits of Journaling
As I've touched on these above, there are so many benefits of journalling, including:
Boosts your self-esteem
Better understand your emotions
Stress and anxiety relief
Moves you towards your goals
Helps with mindfullness
Improves your mood
Helps you to problem solve
Linked to brain health
Helps with trauma
How to start Journaling
To start journalling, it's best to begin by deciding which style of journalling might be right for you in theory - but it might be worth exploring the different options as you never know what may feel the best for you in practice.
Make it a habit
They best way to know if journalling is right for you, is to dedicate some time towards towards it and monitor if you notice an improvement in the way you feel. Ultimately, that's the purpose and you'd want to notice its effects.
A good idea is to dedicate the same time each day towards the practice. For example, first thing in the morning. You can keep your journal next to your bed so it doesn't require to much effort to slot it into your day, and you can keep this up easily. Alternatively, perhaps last thing at night works best for you, as lightening the mental load can help you to sleep better. If you do opt for the '5 minute journal' listed above, then having your journal in the same place every day will help to make this a habit.
Remember, journalling can last for as long or as little as you want it to. Perhaps 3 minutes is all you need - we can all make space for 3 minutes in our day.
Create time for you
There's always something to do, someone to call - but the best time you can invest is with yourself. Life is to be enjoyed, and if we're constantly running from one thing to the next, things start to feel very overwhelming and hectic, and you just don't enjoy the little things. Plus, calm minds bring clarity. Clarity brings solutions and efficiencies. You can't problem solve with a stressed mind - so investing a small amount of time in yourself could lead to big change.
It's little steps up a mountain that lead to the big view.
Journalling is a personal exercise, no one is watching or judging. This is a moment for you to feel free, connect with yourself and release any mental tension. If the thought of writing things down turns to fear of facing certain subjects, then just remember, isn't it better to get that off your mind? The paper can always be burnt, shredded and thrown away. That sounds like sweet relief to me.
Just take it at your own pace, no pressure.
Incorporating Journaling into day to day life
Pairing your journalling with another exercise is a good trigger to keep you on-track. For example journalling during breakfast or your morning coffee. It's nice to take a leisurely approach and embrace the experience with something you already have a positive association with. The One Line A Day journal could be completed whilst on your commute to work, to brighten up your morning.
Like with all change, it takes time. But you set yourself up for success if you always remember why you are doing something, in a moment where you feel like you really don't want to. We're all human, and we aren't perfect - but if we always keep the bigger picture in mind, we'll likely take the right steps.
Journalling is best incorporated into everyday life gradually. In my option, it's best to start with the Five Minute Journal. The framework within this book will set you on a great path of gratitude, and in my opinion this is the one of the most essential pillars for a happy life. You can build up from there to larger sessions of journalling where you let your mind roam free, and write down everything on your mind. The good and the bad.
You don't need much to get started, but it's a good idea to pick something you really like the idea of using. I've added some of my favourites below:
We really hope you found this article helpful, and if you did please share it with someone you might feel will benefit from it!