If someone offered you free therapy, would you accept? If they gave you the recipe to lower anxiety and stress, or to get clarity about your hopes and dreams, would you take it?
I know I would, and I do every day because I own a journal and I know how to use it (sounds like a dangerous weapon)!
A journal can be a valuable defense against fear, self-doubt, anger, and most any negative emotion. When used consistently, a journal can be one of your best self-care tools.
Let me first say that self-care is a buzz-word that includes many misconceptions. Self-care is not “me first.” It is “me too.” Self-care involves filling up your cup so you can pour it out.
If you’re a mom and you have little people chattering at you all day, you might want to take a moment and think about what it is that you would like to say. If there’s not a trusted friend around and you want to vent or process your thoughts, a journal can be your companion. Even when a friend or spouse is available, sometimes you might want a neutral observer to get any mental garbage (or good stuff) out on paper. A journal is like a good friend who is the best listener and doesn’t judge.
Anyone who knows me knows I journal like it’s my lifeline. I have written in a journal nearly every day for as long as I can remember. Maybe 30 years? And I have kept most of them. They fill up boxes upon boxes. As a minimalist this causes a problem, but they are my most prized possessions. (And they could come in handy some day if I ever decide to write a memoir)!
Not only does journaling help you keep a record of what happened in the past, but it can also provide insights to your present emotional state and what you would like to happen in the future. When I journal, I can get my thoughts out on paper and they become less jumbled than when they’re just in my brain.
How about you? Do you ever journal to process through thoughts and emotions?
Read on for five specific ways why journaling can help your mental health. And I’ll give you some prompts to give you ideas about what to write.
1. Clarify thoughts
Journaling is catharsis. Getting the thoughts out of your head and onto paper helps to make sense of them. Like good therapy, journaling helps draw out the truth of a situation, airs out feelings, and helps provide clarity.
Some call it a brain dump, when you just write out what is going on in your mind and heart. If you’re struggling with anger or anxiety, or having trouble sleeping, this can be a helpful tool. One question you might write to get started is simply, “How am I feeling?”
Some other ideas:
- Write a letter to your younger self.
- Write a letter and your future self.
- Write a letter to fear.
2. Record Gratitude
As journaling helps clear your mind it can provide an emotional release that lowers anxiety, stress, and induces better sleep. Who wouldn’t want that, right?
Practicing gratitude also has these effects (stress and anxiety reduction, improved sleep). According to this Psychology Today article, even a weekly practice of recording gratitude has been proven to improve optimism.
- Name three things you’re thankful for today.
- Write what you appreciate about the most special people in your life.
- What was a favorite thing about today?
3. Chronicle Happenings
Writing down every-day moments helps solidify them in your memory. For more on this, check out this Wall Street Journal article, “How Handwriting Trains the Brain.”
- What did you do today? It may seem mundane, but life could be very different a year from now.
- How is your life different than last year, five years ago, ten?
- Write about a favorite memory.
- What are your proudest accomplishments?
Do you ever dare to dream about the future? Kids do this all the time in their pretending. As adults, we can take lessons from their unfettered hopes. Turn these hopes and dreams into writing, as the act of putting it on paper sends signals to the brain that “this is important.”
- Is life turning out how you thought it would, and why?
- What would you do if you weren’t afraid
- If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
- What are your top priorities for the day, week, month, year?
- What do you hope to accomplish by the end of the year?
- If you could pretend you were anything or anyone, what would it be?
5. Be Intentional about Self-Care
Sometimes we need reminders to take care of ourselves. We forget what we need and even who we are sometimes. Here are some prompts to help you think about how to be intentional with your self-care.
- Make a list of what you will say yes and no to.
- Who are you connecting with?
- What expectations of yourself can you let go of?
- How are you taking care of your body, mind and soul?
- What is stopping you from taking care of yourself?
- One of the most calming things I can do for myself right now is ___?
For more prompts and inspiration, take a look at “11 Amazing Bullet Journal Ideas That Cultivate Self-care.”
If you are not a journaler why would I want to convince you to become one, or at least to give it a try? Because it is SO good for your mental health! It truly is a self-care secret weapon.
Maybe you won’t love what you wrote (I often cringe when I read my words many years later). But journaling is not about the final product. It’s about the process. The act of writing something down is where the magic happens.
Go ahead and grab your journal and start writing!