How journaling helps mental health
In times such as these, it’s easy to feel defeated. To lose your way. To wonder about life and our purpose in the world.
7 weeks into lockdown with no light at the end of the tunnel, a lack of human contact and interaction and it’s natural that we may find our mental health suffering.
Even as someone who teaches about mental health I sat with big fat tears rolling down my face one Sunday and into the roast dinner I had cooked for myself because my heart felt so much pain that I couldn’t be with my parents.
Sometimes we have to go with these feelings and let them run their course instead of trying to repress our emotions. There’s no shame in having a big old cry sometimes!
At other times however, it can be helpful to look at ways to regulate our emotions and for me, journaling helps mental health and acts as a powerful tool to calm the mind.
This week I woke up feeling flat (I know how can you actually wake up feeling flat).
I felt like I’d lost my Rasa Sayang as they say in Indonesia – my loving feeling or zest for life.
Having learnt so much about how journaling helps mental health and knowing how it can instantly make me feel better, I pulled out my journal and let my thoughts flow onto the page.
WHAT JOURNALING MEANS
I have always loved to journal and like to think of my journals as Bridget Jones meets the Dalia Lama (I’m sure he would really appreciate that compliment!).
I always kept a journal when I went traveling for long periods of time, but my daily journaling started 10 years ago when I began to study Solution Focused Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapy.
As I explain when I am training people about mental health, journaling isn’t so much about keeping a diary. Journaling is more about capturing your thoughts and what you are feeling down on paper.
I journal everyday and it’s the first thing I do on a morning. Even if I have to be up and out the door (in normal circumstances!), I’ll wake up that bit earlier to allow me to capture the stream of consciousness that is my mind onto paper. This practice is described as ‘Morning Pages‘ in the Artists Way.
For me, my journal is like my best friend. I tell my journal everything. What I’m feeling, what ideas I have, what’s lifting me up, what’s pulling me down, what I’ve learnt, what’s inspired me, what experiences I’ve had – you name it, it all goes into my journal.
How journal helps mental health
On Tuesday instead of getting on with my ‘normal’ groundhog work day I sat back and reflected on what I really needed deep down. How could I nurture my self. How could I feed my soul.
I pushed aside thoughts about what I ‘should’ be doing and recognised if I tried to sit and work, I’d be as useful as a chocolate tea pot.
So sat in my PJ’s I proceeded to pull every journal I had off the book shelf and began to read.
My journals go back around 10 years, so I have built up a good many!
You know that feeling that you get when you loose yourself in a book? You become so immersed in the story and the character. Reading is one of my favourite pastime, but this time I was reading about me. My journey. My adventure. And through it, I took myself back to why was I doing what I was doing. I rediscovered the excitement I had experienced when I first starting working with people as a therapist.
I spent the day reading through my early journals which served as a reminder to keep doing what I am doing. Setting up my own business after a 12 year career in HR was a challenge. I had no idea of how to run a business, I just knew that I needed to take the knowledge I had gained into the world and train people about how to achieve better mental health and wellbeing. As I turned each page I was reminded of how I had got through challenging times. A reminder of my own strength.
My journals also served as a strong reminder of how far I had come, just how much I had grown as a person both personally and professionally. What lessons I’d learned, old limiting beliefs I’d released, the insights into my mind I’d gained.
I took great comfort in recognising how much journaling had helped my mental health both through the act of journaling, and also looking back.
Not only has daily journaling helped me to regulate my emotions by slowing down the stream of consciousness that is the mind, and capture my thoughts and feelings on paper, but those journals have tracked my journey over the past decade. Reading back over them is like seeing visible map of where I have come from and what I need to do to keep moving in the right direction.
WHAT JOURNALING CAN DO FOR YOU
The beautiful thing about journaling is that there is no right way of doing it, and no wrong way of doing it.
People sometimes tell me ‘I don’t know what to write!’. I encourage them that this is normal. We spend so much time living in our head and dancing around our thoughts, that to actually start to assemble your thoughts and put them down on paper can take a little practice.
Some days you may only feel the need to write half a page. Other times, and especially when you get into the flow of it, you can find yourself writing page after page.
Personally I have found that journaling provides the space to ask myself questions. When I am writing about what I am thinking and feeling, I am able to reflect on why that is the case. To challenge my thoughts and look for ways to reframe what I am feeling. I also find it a wonderful way to soothe myself, to write to myself as my own personal champion or best friend, encouraging me – like a sports coach cheering you on from the side lines.
When you start to journal regularly you will find that the mind becomes calmer. You are less likely to be at odds with your thoughts because you have captured them on paper, and as a result have also helped to process some of the emotion that is attached to those thoughts.
When you have become comfortable with journaling, you will also see opportunities to work on emotional blocks. Most of the time, your emotional responses to situations are simply the result of old conditioned responses based on past experiences and limiting beliefs you still hold true. Journaling can help you to see this, to spot the themes and patterns by which you are running your life. Even creating this level of awareness is extremely liberating.
When you start to identify these emotional themes, you can, like me, use powerful techniques such as EFT Tapping to help you work through these.
When you let go of old stagnant emotions and emotional responses, you will begin to create a new inner emotional blue print that empowers to you respond to situations from a different space – a space of calm and clarity, therefore enabling you to change how you behave.
JOURNALING FOR BEGINNERS
The easiest way to begin journaling is to simply start!
Personally I love to journal in a beautiful hardback notebook because I find it adds to the experience. I don’t recommend keeping a journal on your phone or lap top because the brain processes information differently when we write compared to when you type. The brain waves slow down more when you are writing with a pen and paper and that’s what you need to help you process your thoughts and feelings in a much more effective way.
Don’t worry about getting this ‘right’. You don’t have to journal every day. You may find you start with the practice one a week and then build up from there.
I like to journal first thing in the morning with my coffee, but again, there’s no wrong or right time, just do what works for you. I may find myself journaling at the end of the day too if there is something I want to capture about the day.
During this time of heightened emotion, there has never been a better time to start to journal, so get a note book, take yourself off somewhere and discover how journaling helps mental health is good for the soul, and can change your life.