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Journaling 101

When it comes to journaling, there can be a lot of preconceptions. Many people don’t understand that journaling can provide important therapeutic benefits, or they don’t see the point in it, but I am here to say that journaling can be a very effective therapeutic self-care strategy for a lot of people, including myself. I personally have always enjoyed journaling, as I find it to be calming, helps to improve my self-awareness and thinking process, and allows me to see my experiences more objectively. If you feel like you are struggling with your mental health during this pandemic, in which isolation from our social circles is at an all-time high, journaling can be a fantastic potential self-care option to help you address your current challenges.

In the world of mental health, journaling has been an effective treatment for a variety of challenges, and for good reason. Journaling is…

1. A form of self-expression that can empower people to think more critically in order to better understand their current challenges, complex feelings, and difficult experiences.

2. A vessel to vent freely about your challenges, knowing that it will be for your eyes and ears only. Journaling is an opportunity to have a conversation with yourself, in that there is no one to respond back to you, giving you the space to consider your own insights into the matter and come up with your own potential solutions to your current challenges. While it is always helpful, and encouraged, to reach out to family and friends during challenging times, sometimes this can backfire when our loved ones jump to providing unsolicited advice or inserting their own opinions without really trying to listen to, and deeply understand, your experiences. Journaling can give you a chance to explore your experiences in-depth without the potential interference of others.

3. An effective outlet to experience catharsis, or an intense emotional release, that allows for any frustration or mental pain to be relieved through open and honest self-expression.

4. A chance to increase self-awareness about oneself, others, and the world, and this increased self-awareness can eventually teach people to identify themes and patterns occurring in their lives, and therefore become better equipped to cope with similar situations in the future.

5. An opportunity to achieve clarity about your life experiences, relationships, or even certain behaviours and habits. When these patterns or cycles are identified, it may encourage you to make more positive changes in your life, or establish goals you would like to achieve.

6. An opportunity to be in the moment and present with how you are feeling. This is called mindful journaling. When your mind is able to be present and in-the-moment, it can provide clarity, allowing you to make important connections between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Several studies have found that this can actually reduce the effects of various mental health challenges.

7. Helpful for people to learn how to identify and accept their emotions, making them better able to manage their day-to-day stress, and any uncomfortable symptoms of various mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and even trauma-related challenges like PTSD.

Overall, journaling and expressive writing has been found to:

  • Boost mood and affect

  • Enhance your sense of wellbeing

  • Reduce symptoms of depression, such as rumination

  • Reduce intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and avoidance symptoms related to post-traumatic experiences

  • Improve your memory

  • Improve your ability to shift from a negative mindset to a more positive mindset

  • Calm and clear the mind

  • Enhance integration of experiences

  • Assist in releasing pent-up emotions

  • Improve symptoms of anxiety through exploration of anxiety experiences and learning about one’s triggers

  • Reduce stigma and fear of physical and psychological symptoms of mental health challenges through encouraging you to face your challenges head-on

  • Help you discover your authentic self through maintaining, and solidifying, your sense of identity

Now that you have a better understanding for why journaling can be so effective in helping us cope with various mental health challenges and everyday stresses, here are some tips to consider to help you become an effective journal writer and provide you with a good place to start:

1. Make sure you are in a space within your home that is private and personalized, and where you feel the most safe, calm, and at peace, so that you can concentrate without any distractions.

2. Try to maintain consistency with your journaling: the most benefits will be seen if you aim to write for at least 5 minutes once a day, or schedule a time every day where you can solely devote yourself to your journaling, allowing yourself the time to reflect and decompress after writing.

3. Structure your journaling in whatever way makes the most sense to you; after all, you are the only person who will be reading/hearing it, so make sure you are writing in a way that will make sense to you upon re-reading. If you feel like writing may be a challenge for you, consider audio-journaling, whereby you record yourself talking openly about your challenges.

4. Be patient, and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. As with anything new, journaling can take some practice before real benefits can be seen, and it is supposed to be a therapeutic self-care experience, and should not feel like a chore, or add additional stress into your life.

5. Track your mood before and after writing in your journal. This can be done by rating how you feel on a scale from 1 to 10, and can help you determine your progress.

6. Consider what exactly it is that you wish to write about. Take a moment and think about what is going on in your life currently. Is there anything stressing you out? Causing anxiety? Making you feel depressed? Is there anything you are trying to avoid right now? Consider your current thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and then write freely about them, trying not to censor yourself, and making sure to label any emotions you are feeling.

7. Use sentence stems. Sometimes journaling requires you to get in a specific headspace to where you feel in touch with your inner world and experiences. Consider starting by using “I” statements to guide your journaling. For example, you can begin your statements by saying “Right now, I feel…”, or “In this moment, I want…”. Try to ensure that you are speaking in the present tense.

8. End with introspection and curiosity. At the end of your journaling session, it is important to read over what you have written and reflect on your experience of journaling about your challenges. Consider briefly summarizing any important takeaways you have become aware of through your journaling experience, using statements like, “As I read this over, I notice that…” or asking yourself if something has come up in your writing that you haven’t noticed about yourself or your situation before. This is a chance for you to be curious about what is coming up for you and why.

While journaling may seem intimidating at first, with enough time, patience, and practice, it can become an incredibly helpful self-care strategy to use alongside any other interventions you partake in, such as therapy, or peer support. After reading this article, I hope you have begun to feel as though journaling can be something you can look forward to whenever you are having a bad day and need to release the weight of your emotions. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to journal, but I hope some of these tips and tricks will be helpful for you to get started and find what works best for you.

Happy journaling!

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