Journaling is one of the most versatile and effective tools to improving mental health. It can help you de-clutter your mind, solve problems, track your moods or symptoms, identify patterns, clarify goals, and measure progress, according to Kelle Zeabart, a licensed clinical social worker at Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services.
“It’s an activity that can be a healthy outlet for any person experiencing anything,” she said. “This activity can benefit anyone who might feel overwhelmed or has difficulty focusing, somebody processing a traumatic life event, someone seeking empowerment in his or her life, or someone trying to navigate strong emotions or situations in one’s life.”
Don’t worry about creating the perfect written record for your future celebrity biographer; all you need is a pencil and paper (or keyboard, if you prefer) and a few minutes. These five techniques will help get you started.
Coined by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way, morning pages are three pages of stream-of-consciousness, longhand writing completed when you first wake up. Their purpose is to move past fear, negativity, and pettiness, and get to insight that leads to change. Brain dumping—even when it’s a few lines of I hate this, I don’t know what to write, look at that chipmunk—can clear the superficial layers of your mind and free it for more intentional pursuits.
People who actively practice gratitude gain a surprising array of benefits, from lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems to more happiness and feeling less lonely. Oprah’s daily habit of recording five things she’s grateful for inspired her to say, “You radiate and generate more goodness for yourself when you’re aware of all you have and not focusing on your have-nots.”
Writing About Trauma
Excessive writing therapy, pioneered by Social Psychologist Dr. James W. Pennebaker, has proven in multiple studies to help people get past trauma and move towards healing. This method suggests not writing every day; when dealing with trauma it is more effective to limit it to three timed sessions, thereby avoiding sinking into obsessive worry and rumination.
Positive Affect Journaling
In a 2014 Pennsylvania State Hershey Medical Center study on positive affect journaling, participants wrote onlyabout positive aspects of themselves and their lives. They showed lower anxiety, mental distress, and perceived stress after only one month. For this method be sure to accentuate the positive.
W: What do you want to write about?
R: Review/reflect. Try statements that start with I feel, I want, or I think.
I: Investigate thoughts and feelings.
T: Time yourself.
E: Exit. Summarize your takeaway and take action to make changes.
Other styles worth considering:
The tips above will help you get started with journaling if you’re new to it, or maybe inspire you to take a deeper dive into the practice. If you’d like to learn more or have a mental health question you’d like expert help with, contact Hancock Counseling and Psychiatric Services at 317-468-6200.