How to Journal for Mental Health

It's time we start thinking about our mental well-being on the same level as our physical health. After all, the mind and body are connected. Just because trauma, anxiety, and depression aren't visually obvious, doesn't mean they're any less important than a broken arm or the flu. In this post, you'll find the benefits of journaling for mental health with tips on how to start writing one.

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month and May 19th being National Notebook Day, I thought, "what better opportunity to put empty notebooks to good use." Now, I'm no therapist, nor do I pretend to be one on TV. I'm just someone who loves writing and works for a pen company. Rather than sell you pens and notebooks - in this video, I want to sell you the habit of writing to improve mental well-being.

Benefits of Journaling for Mental Health

First, let's talk about the benefits. Obviously, any excuse to use your pens more is great. Using them to improve mental health - even better. Studies prove that daily journal writing can:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Help cope with trauma and major life changes
  • Sharpen memory
  • Improve sleep and the immune system
  • Strengthen confidence and sense of self.

If you'd like to read more about how expressive writing benefits your mental health, you'll find a list of reference articles and books to explore at the end of this post.

How to Journal for Mental Health

While you could journal digitally using apps and text-to-speech, writing by hand reinforces several benefits like improving memory, cultivating calm, and deepening focus.

Now, I know exactly what you're thinking, "but, Tom, I'm not a writer." Newsflash, my friends - the moment you write something, you're a writer. I used to hate running and had no stamina, no desire for it. I was not a "runner." The day I walked out the door and jogged down the block - I was exhausted, but I took the first step to become a runner. 10 years, 2 half-marathons, and one full marathon later, I still enjoy running purely for the physical and mental benefits.

The same practice applies here. In building a consistent habit, permit yourself to identify as a writer. You may never get published, but that's not the point. The desired outcome is building the routine. It's a private victory that benefits your well-being.

How to Journal for Mental Health

So, before we put pen to paper, we found the strong reasons WHY you should journal for your mental health. Then, we adopted the identity of a writer who can express themselves on paper. The next step is to make it a priority on our schedule.

How to Journal for Mental Health

 

As with physical exercise, to see the mental benefits of journal writing, one needs to invest time regularly. Our schedules are busy - as a father of two young kids, I get it. Making time often means sacrificing something else you may feel is enjoyable or important. But, what is more important than your health and well-being? Even if you are responsible for the care of others, you cannot give them the best of your ability if you are struggling with your issues. You are doing a disservice to all those who depend on you by not investing in your well-being.

With this in mind, find 10 minutes to disconnect from the outside and connect with yourself. Just like we discussed in the "stream of consciousness writing" post, create some space where you can be alone and hear your thoughts. Wake up 10 minutes earlier or go to bed 10 minutes later. Put the phone on "do not disturb" and establish boundaries with family, friends, and co-workers. This is your time.

To build consistency and see the benefits of this routine, schedule these 10-minute sessions at least 5 times in the next week. If you could do it daily, great. If you miss a day, forgive yourself and do it the next day.

Now that you have the blank page or screen before you, it might be difficult to open up. Here are some ideas to help get the pen moving.

Write about topics that create a strong emotional response. Certain thoughts seem to have a charged energy. Write them down and ask "why do I have such strong feelings about this?" How does it make you feel? What would have to change to make you feel differently?

You can collect lists of things that concern you. Don't worry about how insignificant the item may be. If it crosses your mind, write it down and weigh its importance. Then, circle items that you have the ability to change. This will help your mind focus on matters that are within your sphere of influence.

How to Journal for Mental Health
How to Journal for Mental Health

Use your imagination to solve problems by writing "what if" scenarios. So much anxiety comes from the fear of the unknown. Take a problem and imagine all the possible outcomes. This will prepare mentally you for the best-case, worst-case scenarios, and everything in between.

Journaling can also be a home to track habits like physical exercise, gratitude, nutrition, sleep, and media consumption. Having a log of these habits is helpful to evaluate their effects on your well-being. Habit tracking can be as simple as marking a calendar. There are plenty of examples you can find of bullet journal habit trackers online to find one that works for you.

Part of being open and honest with ourselves is recognizing what Swiss psychologist Carl Jung describes as the "shadow self." This part of our personality consists of traits that are disapproved by society. Expressing your "whole" self in a journal will lead to a greater understanding of your mind, particularly the suppressed, unconscious parts.

To shine a light on these areas in our minds, identify thoughts and situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Probe your mind with a sense of curiosity to learn more about yourself while withholding judgment. Your journal is a judgment-free zone.

How to Journal for Mental Health
How to Journal for Mental Health

Some folks might need a direct question to answer so they can start writing. Prompts can be a helpful icebreaker. Here are a few you can use:

  • What is your greatest worry?
  • When do you tend to feel most overwhelmed or stressed?
  • Write 5 things you are grateful for.
  • Who are the people that help you be your best self?
  • If you had all your basic needs covered, what would you do with your life?
  • When have you felt the happiest and most fulfilled?

Use these prompts to springboard into deeper introspection and a fuller understanding of who you are.

If you need help with serious mental illness or aren't sure about whether you need professional help, please see a doctor or a licensed therapist. The whole spirit of Mental Awareness Month is to prioritize the wellness of our minds. Journal writing can be an effective tool and I hope that you'll apply the tips in this article to live life to its fullest. Please feel free to share this with others who are looking to add this writing habit to their routine.

For more reading on the benefits of writing for mental health:

5 Powerful Health Benefits of Journaling - Intermountain Healthcare

Why Journaling is Good for Your Health (and 8 Tips to Get Better) - Fast Company

Journaling for Mental Health - University of Rochester Medical Center

Writing Can Help Injuries Heal Faster - Scientific American

Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing - Cambridge University Press

Mental Health Awareness Month - National Alliance on Mental Illness

The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand over Laptop Note Taking - Sage Journals

Books

Expressive Writing: Words that Heal by Dr. James Pennebaker, Ph.D.
The Right to Write by Julia Cameron
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey