Maybe you’ve wanted to journal for a while now but haven’t quite gotten the push to get started, or perhaps you’ve never thought of journaling as a way to deal with a stressful event or to improve something like symptoms of depression.
Regardless, the reality is that journaling for mental health is an excellent option. Along with the benefits of journaling for mental health, there are other benefits of taking time to jot down your thoughts and feelings.
We’ll explore what you should know about journaling and mental health and the other benefits you might get when you incorporate this habit into your daily life.
What is Journaling?
Too often, when we have something we’re interested in adding to our daily routines, we overwhelm ourselves. With journaling, for example, you might think you have to sit down and write pages every day for it to have an impact or that you need to follow a particular structure.
The good news is none of this is true.
The great thing about journaling is that it can be whatever you want it to be. You can sit down for a minute every day and write a few words that come to mind, or you can spend an hour in the evening writing everything that happened in your day.
What you have time for, what feels attainable for you, and what brings benefits to your life are essential. The one thing that you should keep in mind is that you’ll get the most benefits when you journal consistently.
Is Journaling Good for Mental Health?
Journaling is perfect for mental health. Some of the beneficial associations between journaling and mental health include:
- Journaling can reduce stress. When you’re experiencing chronic stress or exposure to traumatic experiences, it can impact you mentally, emotionally, and physically. Journaling as a stress management tool can help you work through your feelings and reduce the impact of stress or traumatic events on your overall health and well-being.
- When you journal, it’s a healthy coping mechanism for negative thoughts and emotions. If you’re dealing with something in your life that creates stress or emotional effects, reach for your journal rather than an unhealthy coping mechanism, like drugs or alcohol.
- When you journal, it can improve your mood, happiness, and feelings of emotional well-being.
- When you develop a journaling habit, it can help strengthen your emotional function and responses. Writing down what you’re feeling and experiencing enables you to connect more with your inner needs and maintain a sense of perspective. Being connected with your spiritual and emotional needs can help your brain more effectively regulate your emotions, and it’s cathartic.
- Taking the time to journal can help you begin identifying patterns in your life, whether they’re positive or negative. Then that can help you see where you might need to make changes. You can also tap into the right side of your brain, associated with creativity. You’ll be able to mentally and emotionally grow when you get into a routine that includes journaling.
- With a journaling practice, you can identify stressors that lead to anxiety. Identification of stressors then helps you create a concrete plan to problem-solve. When you know what your various triggers are, you can learn to control them.
- Reflective writing will help you identify your negative thoughts and behaviors and then engage in positive self-talk to combat them.
- Strengthen your overall brain health by keeping a journal. Journaling can keep your brain sharp and improve your working memory and cognitive processing.
There aren’t just benefits of journaling for mental health. There are even physical health benefits.
- When you engage in expressive writing, it may help your immune response. Researchers find journaling helps improve immune function. Uncontrolled, chronic stress depletes your immune system and leaves you more susceptible to pain and chronic illnesses.
- One benefit of journaling is reducing physical symptoms of health conditions like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. These benefits are likely because journaling reduces stress and improves your overall quality of life in addition to your psychological well-being in the long term.
- Research shows that journaling or other forms of expressive writing for 15 to 20 minutes a day, three to five times a week, can have other significant physical effects, including lowering blood pressure and improving liver function.
How to Start Journaling
Even when you recognize the benefits of journaling for mental health, you may be a little overwhelmed knowing where to start.
Again, the most important thing is starting at all. You don’t have to be a perfect writer for the benefits of effective journaling to come into your life.
Hopefully, there are some specific journaling strategies and practices you can try to see which format works best for you to become an everyday activity.
- A good starting point for mental health is a gratitude journal. When you keep a gratitude journal, list at least three things you’re grateful for; this is an excellent approach for anxiety, depression, and general stress. The idea of the benefit of gratitude is that you can focus on what you already have available in your life and cultivate positive feelings. Focusing on the good, positive experiences and what you’re grateful for can improve your mood.
- Another approach to journaling sessions is to use it as a method of emotional release. You can write about how you responded to various events throughout your day as a way to cope. You can explore your feelings and maybe evaluate more positive things you could do differently in the future when dealing with negative experiences or negative emotions.
- You can also keep a journal with your daily goals or tasks you want to remember. This type of journaling can help you feel more organized and clear your thinking even if you’re not tackling any particular mental health issue or dealing with mental distress.
General tips for journaling include:
- Try your best to write every day, even if just for a few minutes. You want to create a regular habit of journaling time that you eventually do without thinking about it. You might want to start by setting aside a small block of time each day, and you can set a timer to remind yourself to dedicate at least five minutes to your journal, for example.
- Make journal writing easy for yourself. Whenever you’re building a new habit, you want to make it as easy and accessible as possible. You might want to start keeping a journal and pen with you at all times during your usual activities, so if the mood strikes, you can start writing. You can also try a journaling tool like writing prompts to help yourself.
- Write what feels right; even if you’re following one of the above journaling approaches, if something else comes to you at the moment, then write it. Don’t worry about being embarrassed or making grammar mistakes. Your journal is yours to do with it what you want.
The world and our lives can feel incredibly chaotic. A journal can become a respite for you each day and can be part of your routine for better mental and even physical health, as well as a more meaningful life.
A recent study showed also find that journaling helps with mental health conditions and the associated symptoms, including elevated anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and adverse emotional health. Journals and creative writing are excellent ways to work through complicated feelings and can become an invaluable and effective tool to add to your daily practice.
Whether you’re celebrating in the little wins or working through stressful experiences, any form of journaling is likely to improve your mental and physical well-being. If you’re ever struggling or looking for extra struggle in your journal towards good mental health, call (858) 258-9883, and The Mental Health Center of San Diego can help!