The mental health benefits of journaling
These days, it’s easy to spend the majority of our time completely glued to our screens, especially with constant news cycles and social media content right at our fingertips. However, this can have a negative impact on our mental well-being, and it’s vital in this day and age that we all take special care of our mental health.
But how can we find the perfect balance between spending time on ourselves and remaining connected to society and the people around us?
The National Stress Survey (2020) by HSE found that stress, depression and anxiety were the most common causes for 51% of work-related illness, as well as 55% of sick days taken in the workplace. This is a real concern for both our employment and personal lives, with workplace burnout being a major cause for concern. The ‘new normal’ of working from home has only added to our poor mental health, as it’s made it difficult to switch off between work and our own leisure time.
When mental health issues creep up on us, one of the hardest things to do is begin addressing our problems and how they make us feel. This is where keeping a journal can help.
How journaling benefits our mental health
Mental health issues such as persistent stress and anxiety can trigger our sympathetic nervous system (SNS), causing typical anxiety-induced symptoms such as a faster heartbeat, sweating and shakiness. These symptoms can often leave those that struggle with them to have panic or anxiety attacks, which can have effects that last for days, sometimes even weeks.
When our SNS is triggered and switched on, our body becomes stuck in overdrive as we live in a constant state of heightened anxiety. This majorly affects not only how we feel, but other aspects of our health, such as our ability to relax and sleep.
However, starting a journal can have physiological benefits to combat this, including lowering blood pressure and breathing rate – two of the most noticeable symptoms of anxiety. Writing down our anxieties and feelings stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), switching off its counterpart that causes us to feel stressed (SNS).
Sitting down to express our thoughts and feelings in written form causes the following things to happen:
- We are able to switch off from the present.
- We allow our thoughts and emotions to come to the surface instead of being buried below.
- We are able to confront life events, processing and sequencing that allows us to come to terms with what has happened during our day.
Positive affect journaling
Positive affect journaling (PAJ) is a very specific type of journaling, where you write for about 20 minutes per day about positive, happy and uplifting experiences and feelings you’ve experienced during your day or throughout your life in general.
Instead of thinking about traumatic or bad events, PAJ allows you to focus on positive experiences, with psychologists finding that these thoughts and feelings associated with happiness can improve our overall outlook on life.
This expressive form of journalism is frequently and successfully used instead of CBT to help people with distress and anxiety, as well as other mental health problems and even chronic illnesses.
Starting a journal
Anyone can start a journal, and you don’t need to be good with words to do it successfully!
Writing down our own thoughts helps us untangle them, as well as giving us a better understanding of ourselves and our experiences. Whether you’re journaling in a book or a piece of paper, it’s easy to write down your worries, goals, positive thoughts or even just your to-do lists to make them more manageable.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, journaling can be the perfect starting point for easing any anxieties. Writing down your anxious thoughts allows you to understand why you’re feeling like that, and if there’s anything in particular that has triggered these feelings. This helps you not only understand the cause of your anxieties but helps show you that your feelings are completely valid.
The following tips will come in handy when you start journaling:
Set aside time to write
Mornings are an ideal time to set out your goals for the day or week, meaning even the busiest people can fit them into their schedules. Most journalers find pleasure in ticking off their goals at the end of the day, and it actually encourages them to be even more productive!
Writing in the evening is a great time to reflect on your day, and it can aid in easing your mind before bed. Dating every journal entry allows you to look back and reflect on how you’ve felt recently, as well as shows you how much progress you’ve made in all the different parts of your life.
Get creative with sketches or colour coordination!
Mindful creativity helps soothe stress and calm overwhelming thoughts, with creative journaling having the same effect as adult colouring books.
A bullet journal is a popular journaling method that often utilises colour coordination and creative layouts. The concept was created by designer Ryder Carroll and is ideal for those with a creative mind that prefer something more visually stimulating than simply just jotting down words and paragraphs.
In fact, Google search data has shown 49,500 searches in ‘bullet journal’ and 22,000 in ‘bullet journal ideas’ in the last year, plus 2,000 monthly searches of ‘how to bullet journal’ – proving the popularity of starting a much-discussed bullet journal to help organise our lives and calm our minds.
Practice gratitude and write meaningfully
While writing down a stream of thoughts and consciousness helps release built-up emotions, it’s also recommended that you write with purpose to get the most out of your journaling experience.
It’s important that you address your daily activities by writing about how you felt when you were doing them, exploring why that might be instead of simply stating what you did. This helps you get a better understanding of yourself and your emotions, while also keeping note of how certain situations and environments make you feel.
It’s also a good idea to write down something you’re grateful for every day, ending every journal entry positively. This helps you switch to a positive mindset, helping you envision your world in a nicer light than before.
There are many famous cases of people writing throughout times where they were feeling a heightened sense of anxiety, including Anne Frank who is the most well-known diarist published worldwide. So why not try to help your own mental health by writing your own journal?
If you’re looking for support in setting mental health and self-care goals, you can use our search tool to find a coach today.
Andrew Wilson is a bullet journal expert and founder of Executive Pens Direct.