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How to Start Journaling for Mental Health

and Reviewed By Mira Djakov, MMFT

No matter what it is you’re trying to achieve, often, it’s getting started with the process that is the most troubling part of all. The same goes for journaling, which can put a strain on your emotions before helping you reach a breakthrough. With this reflective method being more prominent (and proven) than ever, it’s useful to know how to start journaling for mental health.

When we say proven, we mean that it’s been given a lot of attention from the scientific community and has been scrutinized by experts in the field. What all of these people have come to realize is that journaling does indeed help a person focus on the inner world and reduce the negativity that possibly lurks in our minds.

Not only does journaling help reduce stress and anxiety while enforcing positive emotions and gratitude, but it also translates to better physical health and higher academic performance (Khramtsova & Glasscock 2010).

With all that said, and with the free and easily accessible nature of journaling, we can’t stress enough how important it is to give this method a try. We’ll help you climb the initial hurdles that usually go hand in hand when attempting to do something new and make a change.

What Do You Need?

Much like practicing mindfulness, there’s no special equipment that you need to buy or a long way to go to get the most out of journaling.

All you need are your negative thoughts and emotions that you would like to dispel, a pen, and a trusty piece of paper in front of you. Of course, to get the most out of the process of journaling, it would be better to get a notebook or a diary. It is a well-known fact that journaling is more valuable when it is a continuous process rather than a one-time thing. However, you can forego the traditional writing method if you prefer technology. Each method has a loyal following that swears by their approach to journaling, but truth be told – it doesn’t matter at all. You just need to do what feels most comfortable to you. Suffice it to say that both of these methods have different benefits that appeal to different people.

Pen and Paper

If you prefer traditional ways of storing your feelings, thoughts, and memories, then you will need a pen and a notebook to write in. This approach is more personal and real, as you get to see your inner self materialize on the sheet in front of you. You also get to feel your hand move as you express your struggles. Better yet, you can doodle when you feel inspired, so we can safely say that the traditional approach is much better suited to your creative side.

Computer

On the other hand, computer journaling has its benefits. You wouldn’t be able to read this article if you don’t possess a computer of some sort – a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. That means that you already have a device that comes with some word processing software, which can be just as an effective tool to get started with journaling. Unlike handwriting, it’s a less personalized approach, but for this purpose, it can work just as well, and it can be much faster. Moreover, it’s much more practical for organization and tagging, meaning it will be easier for you to backtrack to specific entries if you’re inspired.

Rules, Rules

Throw them out the window! Journaling is not about following and abiding by a specific set of rules and guidelines.

It is much more than that. Journaling is about expressing your emotions and negative mind chattering in the manner best suited to how you feel at the moment. If you are feeling angry, go ahead and vent to your journal about what made you furious and why. The same goes for when you are sad, disappointed, anxious, or afraid.

This is going to be your private account of how you felt, why, and what it was that triggered such a response from you. No one needs to see it and, no one should – it is your personal space that you pour yourself into.

If you’ve opted for writing down your problems, don’t spend time worrying about how your handwriting looks like or if you’re following strict syntax rules. Remember: these chronicles need to be legible to you and only you.

However, despite journaling being pretty much a free-for-all, there is one thing that you should keep in mind. You need to make a habit out of it – the more often you do it, the better. If you could do it daily, that would be the perfect solution.

Journaling once a week is also alright, but don’t skip out on it, as the success of this method relies on journaling becoming a habit of yours.

Set a Time Limit

If the easiness of journaling hasn’t prompted you to start, setting a time limit might. Any task or a problem can seem insurmountable if you don’t know how much time it would take for you to deal with it. If that is what’s preventing you from journaling, maybe setting a time limit will make it easier for you to start, which is, as we have mentioned, the most difficult step.

If you do it on a daily basis, setting aside ten minutes for journaling would be more than enough. That way, you are giving yourself permission to stop journaling after the allotted time, thus making it much easier to start the whole process. Keep in mind that this does not have to be an actual limit, just a way for you to initiate this helpful way of coping with negative thoughts and feelings. When your inner self starts pouring out on those pages, you don’t have to stop when the time is up.

Write Anything

Perhaps the greatest advice of all when struggling to get started with journaling is to just write anything.

It doesn’t have to have rhyme or reason; just put it out there. For example, you could start by introducing yourself to the journal, saying who you are on the most basic level. Give it your name, age, and address, followed by the date of your birth and the zodiac sign if you will. Describe what you look like, and then slowly work your way to explaining what kind of a person you are.

Say what you love, hate, what bothers you, and what you look favorably on. It will get you several steps closer to expressing the current emotion you are feeling. Then, before you know it, journaling will be like a walk in the park.

Ask Questions

Here are some questions you could ask yourself to reflect on during your journaling time that could pull out some of those difficult feelings and thoughts:

  • How are you feeling?
  • Why are you feeling like that?
  • Is there something you can change?
  • Do you want to change it?
  • How troubling is this problem in the long run?
  • Does repeating something in your head solve it?

By writing answers to these questions down, not only will you stop the negative loop going inside your head, but it will also let you observe the issue objectively and apply problem-solving techniques to the issue at hand.

Be Honest

Most importantly, be honest with yourself. If you’re not honest and open while journaling, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to grow and heal. Your journal could be your safe place for you to be you. And there are not too many places like that in this busy and judgmental world we live in. So, go ahead, give it a try. You will not regret it!

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