Self-care is a great concept that can be difficult to pin down into practice. This article goes over how to start keeping a journal for your mental health by following themes, finding routine, and learning what works best for you.
Journaling is an excellent way to begin taking better care of your mental health. Not only can it help you to avoid burnout and better handle negative situations, but it also has several other mental health benefits, such as:
- Creating distance from negative thoughts
- Encouraging mindful acceptance
- Reducing sick days
- Improving emotional response to stress
- Making it more likely that you reach out for help
- And more
Unfortunately, many people are put off by the idea of journaling, because it reminds them of childhood days writing in a diary or it seems too emotional and soft to be a pragmatic solution. Others aren’t even sure what they would write, so it makes it difficult to get started on something that could have an immensely positive impact on their lives. Here are some great ways to get started and structure your journaling to help you get the most out of your time and start feeling better quickly.
Find a Theme
What is it that you are looking to get out of journaling? Answering this question can help you understand where you should focus your energy. Try choosing a specific theme and sticking to it, rather than having an open-ended “journal time” that can leave you at a loss for words. Feel free to make a theme for the entire journal or just a period of time such as a month, week, or even day by day.
One theme to consider is a reflection of your day. Writing plainly about what happened can help you decompress and get a better understanding of your day. Many of us feel that we are not doing “enough” from day to day, but keeping a journal that shows exactly what you spent your time on is a great way to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on. Daily reflection is also helpful for encouraging acceptance of tough situations, problem solving, and being grateful for the good things in life.
Speaking of gratitude, a gratitude journal is also a great tool for your mental health. Building gratitude can be as simple as listing three things that you were grateful for (without repeating things you have already said). This can be really helpful for making you aware of all of the smaller points of happiness in life that we tend to take for granted. Gratitude also helps us get a better picture of life as a whole, so that we don’t fall into the misconception that everything is terrible. Grateful people tend to be happier, more compassionate, and more generous.
As with any habit, journaling every now and then won’t give you the same benefits that you will see from journaling consistently. Mental health benefits can be difficult to track and notice right away, so we recommend sticking with your journaling practice for three weeks before throwing in the towel. When you write and how often you write depends on what works best for your schedule, but when starting out, we recommend you block off a half an hour so that you have 20 minutes to write and 10 minutes to reflect afterwards. A reflection period may feel strange, but you don’t want to switch immediately to another task after spending 20 minutes writing about intense emotions. It will leave you feeling drained and stuck in those feelings.
Don’t Get Stuck
When we’re dealing with stressful or highly emotional situations, it’s easy to get sucked into a negative point of view. When journaling, this can lead to pages and pages of angry thoughts. While it’s important to acknowledge our emotions and work through them, watch out for adding fuel to the fire. An interesting way to counteract that is to write about conflicts and other negative events from a third-person perspective. This gives you a chance to look at things from an outsider’s point of view. This is also helpful if you are often harsh on yourself when you make a mistake. Using a third-person perspective can help you offer yourself some grace.
Do What Makes You Comfortable
When you sit down to journal, don’t stress about whether you have enough to say or if you are saying the right things. Your journal entries might be only a few lines at the beginning. They may even stay that way as you continue. That’s ok. There’s no word count that you need to hit to find mental wellness. The most important thing you can do is to show up for yourself. Write a little bit about what happened to you that day or what has been on your mind. List some things you were grateful for or write about a weird dog that you saw. You can write about anything that you want.
Self-care takes time and intentional practice. With these steps forward, hopefully you will find that keeping a journal helps you build resilience and feel better overall.