Journaling For Mental Health: The Ultimate Guide
I strongly believe that journaling can be an incredible tool to help just about anyone stay on top of their mental health and wellbeing. In fact, my journal is like my own personal life-bible and I do not know how I would cope without it.
That’s why I put together this ultimate guide to journaling for mental health – so that I can share everything I’ve learnt on my mental health journaling journey so far with you guys and hopefully spark some positivity for you too. Stick with me!
What is Mental Health Journaling?
Journaling for mental health is the act of writing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences down in an organised way – usually a journal entry in a notebook or app – to help yourself gain new perspectives on them.
The purpose of mental health journaling is to develop insight and a sense of mindfulness in your day-to-day life and mind, giving you a blank, judgement-free space to ‘do the work’ on consistent negative emotions. This helps us make space for mental health from within the depths of our mental illness, past traumas or other problems.
This type of journaling can be especially helpful for dealing with many different mental health conditions, including anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia and more, though as mentioned before, journaling is for anyone.
Whether we discuss it, journal it, share it with the world, or not, we all struggle with our mental health from time to time. It is a wide spectrum in which we move around throughout our lives, and journaling can help give us that boost in the areas we really need.
What is Mental Health Journaling Not?
Mental health journaling is not:
- A substitute for professional help – Journaling is a great addition to therapies and mental health support, but it should not serve as a replacement. Remember, you can take your journal to therapy or your care team! So just remember, if you are experiencing thoughts that could result in harm or serious risk to yourself or others, please seek safety, support or professional help immediately.
- A way to avoid addressing difficult issues – Journaling can help you to begin dealing with topics that are causing you distress, but it is important to have the courage and commitment to continue the process until you are able to address whatever is causing you pain, accept it and receive the necessary support or move on. Journaling won’t work if you’re not honest with yourself or if you avoid the real pain spots. (That thing you don’t want to acknowledge as being an issue but it sits at the back of your mind and dictates most of your core beliefs and behaviours? It belongs in the journal.)
What are the Benefits of Journaling For Mental Health?
There are many potential benefits associated with mental health journaling, these include:
- Improved mental health – One of the main aims of mental health journaling is to improve mental health. By writing down your thoughts and feelings, you can work through difficult emotions and develop a greater understanding of yourself and your mental health patterns and symptoms.
- Improved general well-being – Mental health journaling can make you feel more in control, help you better understand the different roles that factors such as work, relationships and experiences play in your overall wellbeing and provide an outlet for feelings that may otherwise be difficult to express.
- Reduced stress and anxiety – By documenting your feelings and stream of consciousness, you can reduce the amount of time spent worrying. When thoughts come into your head, write them down immediately instead of holding onto them and letting them interrupt your day-to-day life.
- Increased self-knowledge and self-awareness – Through journaling, you may identify patterns in your thinking and behavior. This can help you to better understand yourself and make positive changes.
- Boosted creativity – Journaling can help you to explore your thoughts and feelings more deeply, leading to new insights and creative ideas.
- Improved focus and mindfulness – Putting your thoughts into words can help to improve focus and mindfulness as you are engaging with the present moment, taking you out of your habitual streams of thought.
- Physical health benefits – As mental health journaling makes you aware of your physical health habits and symptoms, it makes it much easier to manage and improve.
- Improved emotional intelligence – Journaling can help you to become more aware of your own emotions and the emotions of others. This increased awareness may lead to improved relationships with others and yourself.
- Increased self-compassion – Journaling can help cultivate a more compassionate attitude towards yourself, providing relief from feelings of isolation, worthlessness, and shame.
- Documentation of mental health treatment – Journaling can be used as a tool to document and report the effects of mental health treatment. This may include things like tracking medications, DBT techniques used, using your journal as a symptom-tracker.
How Has Journaling Helped My Mental Health?
For me, journaling has been one of the most important tools in my mental health recovery – probably only just behind my sobriety and my yoga/meditation practices.
I recently moved house, and when unpacking my books I found I had one huge box filled with notebooks. After scanning back through all my old journals I felt like I’d been on a journey through time, revisiting old thoughts and memories like my body held a deep connection to them. Noticing my progress in the last 4, 5, 6 years, with insights into who I have been and who I have become.
Honestly, most of these journals are not pretty. They are messy and ripped and scribbled and filled with random crap. But they’re just for me. And looking back at how far my mental health has come since I was the girl writing those entries is just mind-blowing.
Anyway, scruffy journals aside – here are the two journals I use for my mental health now and how they’ve helped me.
I’m going to write a follow-up post about bullet journaling with a load more of my page design examples, but I just wanted to quickly mention here how helpful my bullet journal is for me and my mental health.
I basically use my bullet journal as an everything journal. I create and collage new pages with art and prompts when I’m feeling artsy, ready to sit down and fill in when I’m feeling thoughtful. It’s filled with everything from gratitude to affirmations, to my birth chart and therapy journaling. It is honestly, like I said, my life-bible. It is how I ‘do the work’ and where I can write freely about things that I don’t want to share – or am not yet ready to share – with the world.
Writing a Public Mental Health Journal
When I first started this blog, for a long time my tagline was ‘an open and honest journal of mental health & recovery’. Though that’s been slightly tweaked in my new logo design, that has always been my goal here. This is my space. I can write my truth here and I have the opportunity to connect with and help others as I do it. The ones that don’t like it aren’t interested and the ones that do are genuinely impacted by mental health advocacy and openness in the recovery dialogue.
If you feel like boosting your own mental health while helping others, maybe a mental health blog or public online journal could be a great idea for you. Even if that just entails being open about your struggles on social media. Nothing changes if nothing changes, and all that.
The online mental health community is seriously amazing, I’ve made some incredible friends here. Friends that understand the mental illnesses I live with from lived experience, that can empathise and know strategies that help. I have conversations about something that someone learnt in therapy that they thought I might find useful, I share my writing with friends that I think might benefit from my experiences and they love it, and we find shared humour in the darkest of moments.
I heard in a podcast recently that showing off our strengths might impress other people, but being open about our weaknesses has the power to impact them. Our mistakes, lessons learnt, experiences – they could be the recovery guide for someone else.
Is Journaling a Healthy Coping Mechanism?
The simple answer is yes, when used correctly and with curiosity, compassion and kindness, journaling can be a great coping mechanism to dealing with mental health problems or mental illnesses.
Journaling can also help you track your habits and, furthermore, your negative coping mechanisms. Say, for example, you know that your drinking is impacting your mental health, but aren’t sure how much. If you track the days you drink alcohol in your journal, and your mood/thoughts/feelings, you will get some invaluable insight.
You can use your mental health journal to do this with anything: sleep, food, drugs, alcohol, self-harm, medications. Getting aware of your go-to coping mechanisms when your mental health isn’t the best is a great step in self-awareness.
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Types of Journals For Mental Health
What is a Therapy Journal?
A therapy journal is a type of journal specifically for mental health. It can be used as a tool to document and report the effects of mental health treatment. This may include things like tracking medications, DBT techniques used, using your journal as a symptom-tracker.
In my experience of GPs and mental health care teams, having one of these to hand can help speed up certain processes, especially to help with tracking triggers, symptoms and thought patterns that occur in bad moments (or BPD episodes for me!) and giving you further insight to your mental health conditions.
Therapy journals can also help you to reflect on your therapy sessions and the work you are doing in therapy. This can help to increase the effectiveness of your therapy and give you a better understanding of yourself and your mental health.
What is a Gratitude Journal?
A gratitude journal is a type of journal that is used to document all of the things for which you are grateful. Though we will naturally encounter both positive and negative beliefs in our lifetime, journaling can be a great way to boost our overall well being and promote positive thinking. Building positive habits and behaviours is vital to improving our mental health, and a gratitude journal is an incredible way to start and see the world in a more positive light.
Sometimes, we end up collecting too many negative beliefs about our lives based on our past experiences, which can cause elevated anxiety symptoms, general poor mental health, and even regular mental distress. Gratitude journal entries help to address these beliefs and replace them with more positive thoughts. They can help you see that you have more blessings than challenges, despite how negative thinking might affect your perspective.
Some people find that they become more sensitive to negative stimuli throughout their day, which can contribute to increased anxiety levels and emotional exhaustion. Using a gratitude journal can help you stay mindful of all the things for which you are grateful in life, reducing your overall sense of negativity. Your stress levels may also decrease, which can have direct positive effects on your mental health.
To start your gratitude journal: simply list 5-10 things you are grateful for each day. As time goes on, as long as you stick with practicing gratitude, positive psychology tells us that you will find that you are grateful for more and more things.
What is a Bullet Journal?
The ultimate creative form of self-care, and my personal favourite, bullet journals combine all things from stream-of-consciousness entries to collages, expressive writing and art.
You can use a bullet journal in any way you like. You can make it as creative or minimalistic as you want. But the main goal is to use this journal to track your overall mental health, physical health, and daily goals. Some ideas for tracking your mental health in a bullet journal include:
- Daily moods and emotions
- Thoughts and insights
- Medications and side effects
- Thoughts on certain DBT skills/therapy Insights
- Thoughts and feelings about journaling itself
- Creative projects to take your mind off of things
- Self-improvement goals
- Notes about your mental health condition and how to cope
The bullet journal for mental health is a great opportunity to get creative with yourself. It can help you flex that artistic muscle, get in touch with the way you’re feeling, and improve your overall mood. To start your bullet journal, you’ll need a journal, a pen, and your choice of any arts and crafts supplies like stickers, old magazines to cut up, paints or washi tape. Check out some inspo and get creative.
What is a Dream Journal?
A dream journal is a type of journal that is used to document your dreams. It can be an interesting way to explore your subconscious mind and gain insights into your daily life. When you document your dreams, you may begin to see patterns in the types of dreams you have, the people who appear in them, and the symbols or messages that they may contain.
To start your dream journal: you should begin by getting a notebook that you don’t mind marking up. The next step is to do your best to recall your dreams in the morning before getting out of bed, and write them down as soon as you can.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your dream journal! Draw or paint what you remember from your dreams, and write down any feelings or insights that you remember. Don’t forget to date your entries so you can track the changes in your dreams over time.
What are Morning Pages?
Morning pages are a type of journal that can be used to document your thoughts and feelings when you first wake up. They are often used as a way to start the day in a positive and productive manner. Morning pages can help to clear your mind and set the tone for the day ahead.
To start your morning pages: simply get a notebook by your bed and write in it for a few minutes every morning. It can be helpful to set a timer so you don’t get distracted from your writing by worrying about how long you are spending on it.
There are no wrong answers when it comes to the topics that you write about in your morning pages, but some people find it helpful to focus on what they appreciate most about their day, their goals for the day, or any other positive thoughts. The morning pages can also be a great place to document any negative thoughts and feelings you notice arising, as long as you are willing to accept them and work through them later on in the day.
What is a Manifestation Journal?
A manifestation journal can be used to track your thoughts about what you want in life and the positive changes that you hope to make.
Keeping a manifestation journal is one of the most effective ways to manifest positivity in your life. The act of writing down what you want may help you believe it’s possible, which can lead to its manifestation. There is a type of magic in your handwriting, and your words may have a positive impact on the way you think about life.
As you work through this journal, remember to focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want. This can be a powerful tool for changing the way that you see yourself and the world around you, especially if you have a history of negativity.
To start your manifestation journal: simply get a notebook and begin writing down what you want in life. You can include images or pictures that will inspire you as you work towards your goals. Don’t be afraid to create a vision board or other visual aids to help you manifest positivity for yourself.
Is There an App For Journaling?
Though for me, there are no apps that can quite replace the power of writing down your thoughts in a paper journal, there are several journal-style apps available that provide all the same journaling benefits as a physical journal. These apps can help you to track your moods and feelings throughout the day, which may help you to notice trends, or find helpful patterns in how you feel.
There are hundreds of great journaling apps, from visual journals to mental health trackers to gratitude diaries. The benefits of using an automated app for things like this are that it can send you reminders throughout the day and help you recognise patterns in a structured, safe and reliable way.
This regular journaling practice offers you the ultimate privacy in the form of a digital journal. Keep your journal private in a locked app, and feel free to spill all of your inner conflicts – in a healthy way, in a judgment-free zone.
How To Start Journaling For Mental Health
1. Choose Your Type of Journal & Sort Out the Practical Aspects
When it comes to journaling for mental health, one of the most important things is to find a journaling system that works for you and to stick with it. Decide which type of mental health journal you want to try, and get all the practical aspects that you need together – even if it’s just a notebook and a pen!
2. Find & Collate Useful Journal Prompts
Most mental health journals work by prompting you to focus on a particular aspect of your life, and then asking questions that will help you to sort through the emotions, behaviours and ideas that arise from those thoughts.
There are many different types of journal prompts that can be useful for mental health purposes. There are endless lists online that you can save and also some great blogs out there highlighting journal therapy prompts and sentence stems for mental health journal entries.
3. Start Writing – Use Stream-of-Consciousness and Journal Prompts
If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend all the time in the world making your journal look pretty and crafting journal prompts to use, but fall short when it comes to actually getting any writing done. So basically, remember to actually start writing in your journal – it is the whole point after all! If you don’t know where to start, a prompt can help, and the rest can just flow freely. This is just for you, you can be honest!
4. Create Space in Your Day-to-Day Life For Journaling
Having a mental health journal is great, but having the time to write in it can be even better! Make sure that you have set aside some space for regular mental health journaling, setting aside specific time for it in your life helps to keep up the motivation. This regular practice of writing things down will help you to sort through your thoughts and feelings, which can ultimately help you to feel stronger and happier in yourself.
A great journaling habit is just that – a habit! Valuing your journaling time is key to staying motivated. Understand that journaling helps thoughts and emotions flow freely and positive behaviours flourish. It’s beyond worth the short time spent on it every day.
What Do You Write in a Journal For Mental Health?
Mental health journals are a great way to keep track of your progress, reflect on your thoughts and feelings, and sort through your emotions. They can also help you to notice patterns in your moods or behaviours. When it comes to what to write in a mental health journal, there is no one answer – it’s all about what works for you!
Hopefully some of my ideas and insights have helped you get a better idea of what you can include in your journal entries, how you can get started and why you might want to. Peace and love and as always, feel free to leave your thoughts below!