This is the first practice for the MNSTR Method of Mental Health Management (MMMHM), an important practice that I've implemented in my mental health management. Honestly, it took me a while to find my journaling style and when I did, I can't go a day without it now. The type of journaling I will go into is called expressive writing, there's another form called gratitude journaling but I feel that you could add those thoughts in this form of journaling. I'll provide some guidelines below on how to get started and like all the other practices is just to start small and keep it going every day. Before we get to the guidelines, let's understand why journaling is so great for your mental health, this practice has the ability to change the way you treat yourself...the perspective on your past + thoughts about the present and also future.
Writing about the events in our lives such as the ones that involve stress and trauma related can benefit our overall health, journaling can help with acceptance instead of judging our experiences... I became more self-compassionate with this practice. There's something about writing your thoughts down and reflecting on them that gives you the feeling of clarity over your thoughts, emotions, and/or experience... which in turn gives you better mental control over those things. Writing about trauma can be beneficial because it helps people re-evaluate their experiences by looking at them from different perspectives and help ease the emotional pressure of negative experiences. Writing in a journal can help us create the space and distance needed to reflect on what has happened, where we are, and what is ahead. (Sutton, 2018)
Keeping a record of your thoughts and feelings daily helps to support your mental health by:
breaking away from the cycle of rumination
improving your perception of events
regulating your emotions
elevating your self-awareness
reducing anxiety through reflection
The practice of journaling is so therapeutic when you learn how to do it well and what's right for you. It can help promote mindful acceptance which is an effective way of getting unstuck in your mind so that you can free yourself to move forward in your emotional + mental experience. It provides emotional catharsis, an emotional release of unconscious conflict through venting of feelings, increased cognitive processing with the time spent creating coherent narratives of an event, and helps to confront the emotions that give you discomfort by addressing and understanding them instead of suppressing them. You will find it easier to address your feelings, thoughts, and experiences as you work journaling into your daily practice when you journal the way that works for you best.
Let's get into the guidelines... here are some things to keep in mind when you start your journaling practice:
WHAT WILL YOUR JOURNAL FORMAT BE?
Will it be a dedicated notebook written by hand, a document on your laptop/computer, an online document, or a sketchbook. I've chosen an online document (google docs) which I organize by month (for example: September 2022), this is accessible to me and I can type as fast as my thoughts flow which I really like. Whatever works for you, that's the key. I also have a sketchbook by my bedside table that I sketch and jot down thoughts and/or draw right before I go to sleep just to clear out any lingering thoughts in my mind and onto the paper.
WRITE FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
Let go of judgments... don't worry about the structure, spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc if you are free writing as thoughts flow into your mind. It's all about the content and if you really must, you can edit as your read it while you review (reflection time) your entry however short or long it is.
MAKE IT EASY
Have not journaled before or you have had a few times in your lifetime? Just start small with this practice. I gave myself a focused time of 10 minutes of writing to start and I eventually made more time as I needed it, you're not going to be journaling in the same amount of time every day. Give about 5-10 minutes for reading and reflection after your entry. It will take time for you to get into the writing groove depending on your mood, the number of distractions around you, and how stressed/tired you are... just keep it light and try to dedicate this time to your well-being.
MAKE A WRITING ROUTINE
To continue on what I mentioned above about starting small, other factors to make this a habit eventually consists of the time of day, place (setting), and how you feel. Creating a writing routine that you could repeat every day is essential to successfully making this into a habit. I locked in my journaling routine consistently by being specific on those factors mentioned for this habit. For example: In the evenings after I do my last task/chore of the day, I will sit at my desk in my home studio to journal on my laptop, I put my phone on Do Not Disturb mode to charge it nearby (not within arm's reach), I put on an instrumental track (beats) or sometimes it's just relishing in the quiet after a long day of noise, and I prep myself for a free writing session without distractions to review myself and my day. This is an effective way for me to end my day to clear my head and prepare myself for a good night's rest ahead. My journaling routine became a necessity in my self-care practice, it gave me the desire to journal every evening for the process and how much better I feel afterward.
WHAT TO JOURNAL
Some thoughts about this... journal about anything that comes to mind... something that happened in your day, a situation that made you think a lot about, a person/people that you interacted with, or someone whom you are thinking about, it can be anything from your day. Free write about the thoughts, emotions, events, places, + people, and don't just journal about what happened facts-wise but how it made you feel surrounding it. Reviewing your day like this is really powerful to see what issues may need to be addressed... however, as best as possible to not relive the emotions that you felt while recollecting the moments especially when it is upsetting but if it does bother you, accept that it does... just stop writing and take a couple of deep intentional breaths focusing on your breath and get back to writing when you are calmer. You can even narrate in the journal about the emotion that you felt when it started to upset you during the session, it's a constructive form of self-talk that can help raise your self-awareness even more. It's important at the end of the entry for you to read back what you wrote and reflect on it, try to do it as objectively as possible like you're reading words written by a close friend of yours. While this process may not fix all your problems right then and there, it will help you learn more about yourself and that's part of the process.
Following up on the last point, using journal prompts can be helpful in your practice. Here are some prompts that you can use, you may cherry-pick and bundle several prompts in one session according to how you're feeling that day:
How did you start your day?
How are you feeling right now? or how did you feel today? (mentally, emotionally, and/or physically)
What were the highlight(s) and lowlight(s) of your day?
Was there anything that you were or weren't proud of in how you behaved/reacted?
What did you want to do today that you couldn't?
Name something that you fear and why?
What is your ideal day?
What is your favorite memory of your childhood?
How do changes in your life make you feel? and how are you handling them?
What three things are you most grateful for today?
What are you anxious or uncertain about? Where is that coming from, and how are you coping?
What was one thing that happened today that made you think?
Did someone affect you today, if so.. why did you feel and think that way?
It's like asking questions to a close friend of yours about what happened in their day, how they felt, etc. It's a compassionate, caring, and interested tone of voice. You will learn to have more positive self-talk in your mind and in this practice. That's about all the thoughts that I have on journaling, hope the information above can help you get started on this practice if you haven't started yet. If you have any thoughts or questions about this, feel free to CONTACT me with the subject line: Journaling.
Sutton, Jeremy, Positive Psychology website, 14 May 2018 <https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling>
The Recovery Expert, Psych Central website<https://psychcentral.com/pro/recovery-expert/2020/04/using-brain-dumping-to-manage-anxiety-and-over-thinking#>
The Benefits of Journaling for Mental Health, Diversified Website, 10 March 2022 <https://ptsdrecovery.ca/the-benefits-of-journaling-for-mental-health>