How To Start A Mental Health Journal
With the pandemic offering no end to bad news, there has never been a more significant time to get that old notebook out and start your journaling habit. Turn a page, let it all out, and you’ll feel a sense of release and clarity that only the act of putting your thoughts on paper can offer.
Health Benefits Of Journalling
In this highly stressful time, a journal can be a powerful tool to manage your mental health, keep negative emotions in check, and push back against self-destructive thought patterns.
At the start, you might feel that articulating your thoughts, feelings, and fears on paper serve little to no purpose, but the benefits of journaling tend to add up over time.
Keeping a daily journal gives insights into the inner workings of your mind and allows you to see day-to-day patterns that you would not have otherwise noticed. This activity helps you identify stressors in your environment as well as negative thoughts that have solidified into beliefs.
Once you can recognize these triggers, you can make a conscious effort to challenge these thoughts, correct harmful behaviors, and be a little kinder to yourself.
In addition to mental health benefits, science suggests a link between journaling and physical well-being. Studies have shown that regular journaling strengthens T-lymphocytes or immune cells that help keep disease at bay and decrease symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Now that we’ve gone through the health benefits of journaling, here are some tips on getting started.
Forget The Rules
Forget proper grammar, punctuation, spelling, or any other kind of structure! There are no “should have’s” with journaling. The moment you realize that you are relieved of any mental blocks and expectations about what your journal should look like or what it should contain.
You can use codenames, cut sentences short, ramble, and that’s perfectly fine. You can keep your journal locked away forever, upload it as a private document, or choose to share some parts of it with trusted confidantes.
Once you get started, you might find that the words come easy. It’s because when you write, you access the left part of the brain dedicated to analysis, logic, and reason. Once the left hemisphere is activated, the right part – which performs creative tasks – is free to roam, build, feel, and create meaning. Journaling allows you to bypass this boundary and use your full brain power to make sense of the world.
Make Time For Journaling
Our only recommendation is to set aside time to write every day. You can narrate how your day went at night or write at the start of the day and list expectations for the day to come. Like a muscle that you train and strengthen, you have to dedicate a time and place for journaling until it becomes a reflex.
To complement your journaling habit, you can use mood monitoring apps. Several free and paid versions let you assign an overall mood for the day and produce data-driven reports across a specified timeframe. You can take this even further and download a wide range of mental health apps dedicated to embedding mindfulness or giving self-help reminders.
Journal Writing Prompts
So you’ve got your notebook and pen ready, now what? Here are some writing prompts to help you warm up:
- What has changed in your routine since the shelter-at-home order? Describe the before and after. Can you identify which changes were the most stressful? What about surprisingly positive experiences?
- Who or what brings you the most joy these days? What is it about these activities or people that make you feel this way? How can you strengthen your connections to the people and things that contribute to your joy?
- How cany ou be a source of joy to someone in my immediate circle? What can I do to bring happiness to their lives? What small steps can I take when I cannot see them physically?
- What have you come to learn about yourself in the middle of the pandemic? Did you find out that you had a hidden talent, or did you finally give yourself time to do what you’ve always wanted? What else do you want to do?
- What are you learning about others? Are they positive or negative? What has brought a smile to your face these days when reading the news? How can you take all the lessons you’ve learned so far – about yourself, your community, and your place in the world – moving forward?
Maintaining a journal is an excellent way to keep tabs on your mental health in these stressful times. It’s normal to feel worried and restless, but keep in mind that there are things that you can still control.
A journal is an effective way to remember that and make sense of an increasingly chaotic world. If you’re looking for a sign to start writing, this is it! Happy journaling!