How to use a Journal for your Mental Health
Has it ever occurred to you that Journaling can support and help you heal your Mental Health?
Over the past decade, whilst I've been battling my own struggles with Mental Health, I found that journaling was the thing that kept me sane and helped me made sense of the thoughts and behaviour patterns I was stuck in.
Whenever upsetting or traumatic events occur in our lives, we tend to suppress the most painful feelings in order to protect ourselves, but this protection mode only leaves us unable to fully process what actually happened and that upsetting experience becomes the central focus of our lives.
This unhealthy focus leads us to be emotionally stuck and unable to move beyond the incident and the feelings that we can't quite digest, and so we fall into the negative emotional spiral.
Whenever we battle negative emotions and thoughts, our minds spend time trying to tease through all the puzzles in our minds that we can't quite understand. One thought will lead to another, and then another that can validate that whatever we are thinking and feeling is real and legit, and so our thoughts become consumed by what has happened.
Consequently, a large part of our memories become distorted or hidden to protect ourselves from the pain that we don't want to face. That's when we end up bottling up or avoiding emotions, without realizing the physical stress that it causes, such as migraines, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and gastrointestinal problems as well as lack of memory and concentration and aggression.
Besides these common symptoms, unresolved stress can lead to anxiety or/and depression, and without addressing adverse feelings and identifying triggers that are keeping you stuck in the cycle of negative emotions, we will keep being stuck there without understanding why.
That's where Journaling can help!
Writing supports the expression of our feelings.
Whilst we are striving to find the right words to express or feelings, emotions, and thoughts, we are using the rational left hemisphere of the brain. As we are concentrating on this, we free the right side of the brain which is the creative side- by being focused on the words we are allowing new ideas and perspectives to be freed, and new ideas and images that we were not expecting flow into the paper easily.
The more we write, the freer we become of the emotions we are bottling up, and that allows us to gain clarity and understanding around the event or issue we experienced so we can see the context of our whole life rather than allowing that one event define our entire life!
Journaling is a tool to support healing.
Keeping a regular record of your experiences and feelings as they relate to your healing can be hugely beneficial and help you through recovery.
Your journal becomes the go-to place to vent and explore difficult emotions and perceptions of events as well as it holds you accountable for your actions and choices as you explore your behaviours and needs.
Talking can sometimes be difficult, so writing offers a way of expressing ourselves and identifying what's causing stress or anxiety.
Once these triggers are identified, you can work on a plan to resolve these issues.
Journaling also offers the opportunity to prioritize your problems, fears, and worries instead of ignoring them. Only by facing those painful experiences and digging deep to discover triggers, you are ready to heal and move forward. Avoidance never brings you resolution. It might help you for a while, but suddenly you are triggered without knowing why and you end up falling into the negative spiral yet again.
Journaling helps you to get to know yourself better. As thoughts and feelings rise to the surface, you become aware of situations or issues you didn't know were upsetting to you and you also discover what makes you tick, your strengths, and your traits.
With this new awareness, you have enough data to work through those issues and find ways to deal with the stress.
There are many ways to journal. I always recommend having an emotional or behavioural purpose/goal in mind before you start your journey. It's best to know where you are heading so you can evaluate, through your own journaling entries, if you are getting any closer to achieve the peace and resolution you are aiming for.
In your journaling practice, you can use things like prompts, unsent letters, sprint writing, or creative journaling to prompt you to write. The more variety you try, the better as it will challenge your mind and bring you new ways of self-discovery.
Remember that you need to be consistent and persistent. Only by writing regularly, you can find that it will help you heal or ease your negative emotions. It is a practice and the brain will need to be trained, so you naturally will feel like giving up soon after starting- that's why you need to be consistent and persevere. You are doing this for you!
Below are 5 tips to get you started:
- Choose a journal that's attractive to you- you need to feel drawn to it, it needs to meet your needs (number of pages, blank or lined). The cover needs to speak to you. If you are not attracted to it, you will not feel the passion to open it every time and you feel out of love quickly.
- Set aside 15 minutes minimum daily or 30 to 45 minutes a week- Find a quiet place, comfortable and cozy where you feel secure and avoid distractions. Switch off the TV and the phone, and if you don't like radio silence, consider putting some music. Remember to be consistent and commit to this practice. Make it a routine. Try to stick with the same time every day to make it easier to implement ( for example, before going to bed).
- Don't worry about grammar or punctuation - Don't waste time correcting or looking for a perfect way to express your thoughts and feelings. The more stuck you get into perfection mode, the more you will hold yourself back rather than moving forward.
- Writing is just for you, no one else- Don't hold back with fear of others reading your entries. If you are worried someone might read it, you will hide some things that need to come out in order to help you heal. Don't share your journal and hide it if need be.
- The first sentence is always the hardest- Be kind to yourself when you feel like you don't know what to write about. After the first sentence, the rest will flow because your right side of the brain will be let free to inspire you and guide you. Consider using prompts to support you. Don't give up and keep writing.
By doing this regularly, you will start noticing shifts in your energy levels, in your mood, and even your sleep.
If you would like to get more tips and support, feel free to join my free Facebook Group where I go live every week to give insights about using Journaling to heal negative emotions.
See you on the other side,