Today it’s World Mental Health Day, and so I thought I’d talk about the positive effects of journaling on our mental health!
A few years ago when my life coach asked me what my thoughts were about journaling, I could only visualise writing a diary, like some of us may have done as a child. But more recently I’ve actually come to realise how writing in it’s many guises, can not only be beneficial for creativity, and story telling, but has countless benefits to our mental health.
Understandably, if you’ve never attempted journaling you may be some what sceptical, and even if you’re not, you may be unsure where to start. You may be thinking, hold on, is this another ‘thing’ we’re being told we should fit into our already busy lives? Who has time for that, right? Well, I’d hold my hands up and say I was slightly dubious at the start, but over some time I’ve witnessed some of the many benefits in both myself, but also in my clients.
My first real experience of journaling as an adult, started as one off exercise through my coaching sessions. This particular exercise helped me to work through my thoughts and feelings surrounding the end of a long term relationship that had affected me so profoundly. The process of writing a letter, but without the intention to ever send it to the recipient, was one I found to be so cathartic, and at the time helped me process some of the ‘unsaid’ feeling and thoughts that I was never able to say to the person. I never needed to send that letter, it was simply the process of working through my feelings that gave me the power to help me move on.
Since that first exercise, I have always kept a journal. Sometimes I write in it daily, sometimes weeks can go by without any entries, but I will always go back to it when I feel stuck, or I am struggling with processing difficult emotions. You could say, it’s my form of therapy.
One lesson I would say I have learnt about my journal is that it is a very personal tool, and for me personally I prefer to keep the contents to myself. Although there are many benefits to this approach, I do find it extremely sad, especially today on #worldmentalhealthday, that it’s the stigma wrapped up in mental health which so often stops people suffering from mental illnesses opening up to those close to them. I’ve realised through my coaching journey and further education through experts in the field, like Mel Robbins, and the many other visible mental health advocates, that these journaling pages, are for you alone and don’t need to be shared with anyone else. The writing process is where the benefits come from and not the need to share.
In a fantastic Ctrl Alt Delete podcast, Mel tells Emma, ‘We all know what to do, the how is the hard part’.
Change can only happen once we first recognise patterns, feelings, and behaviours, all of which can be helped by writing and as Mel acknowledges ‘journaling can help you be accountable’
One of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotions is to find a healthy way to express yourself, which is where journaling can help. It can help you with:
Coping with depression
The gift of Journaling to unlock your creativity
Perhaps the most famous person for bringing the benefits of journaling to the public domain is Julia Cameron. Cameron’s world famous The Artist’s Way is meant for anyone who wants to tap back into their creative selves. Which, as I’ve mentioned previously could be anyone of us, even if we’ve lost our way along our lives!
The Artists Way was recommended to me a few years ago, but has been sitting on my book shelf waiting, until now! I’m not sure why, but it felt like the perfect time for me to start this book. Do you ever get that feeling when the dots start joining up?
There are two fundamental practices that Cameron swears by and encourages her readers to undertake in The Artist’s Way. The first is Morning Pages. (The second is the Artist Date, which I’ll write about another time). The practice of Morning Pages is really quite simple: just write three pages, long-hand, first thing in the morning. Without the need for thinking, or analysing, or stressing about the content. What you write doesn’t really matter, just write. Just get your thoughts and feelings which are at the forefront of your mind onto paper. It’s so important not to overthink, and do not judge yourself, keep going until you’ve hit three pages.
Julia stresses that this is not meant to be creative writing as it’s not for anyone else but you.
When I started reading the Artists Way, I realised that a part of me started this process back in 2017 when I started my blog. Admittedly it wasn’t as regular as every day, it did however allow me to get my thoughts and feelings down on paper. The biggest difference was that one of the reasons for starting my blog was to help others, which I could only do by sharing, which is a far cry from Morning Pages.
Although I’m just at the start of my journey with Morning Pages, I’m looking forwards to where it might take me. In the past, journaling has helped me navigate some of the thoughts and feelings in my head and unlock parts of me, that perhaps I was too busy to see. I guess for me it’s like running, it’s a tool that helps to separate and dissolve unhelpful thoughts and help with those light bulb moments!
If you’re curious to know how journaling might be able to help you, in either supporting your mental health, unblock your creativity, or create a more fulfilling life, why not give it a ago?
Here’s a few tips on how to journal
Try to write every day. Set aside a few minutes every day to write. I’d suggest in the morning, as it can be a great way to gain clarity for the day ahead, however journaling in the evening can equally have huge benefits. For example, if you’ve been feeling low, or overwhelmed gratitude journaling can allow to see the day which has just passed in a more positive light. What ever time of day, the more regularly you journal the more you’ll see the benefits.
Make it easy. A bit like when I wrote about habits, make it easy, by keeping a pen and paper at the place where you know you’ll journal. Then when you want to write down your thoughts, you can. You can also keep a journal on your smartphone, but there has been much research done into the benefits of hand writing over typing.
Write whatever feels right. Your journal doesn’t need to follow any certain structure. It’s your own private place to lay your thoughts and feelings down. Just write, don’t think just write and certainly don’t worry about spelling or grammar.
What people think. As mentioned, I would avoid the urge to share your journal, but if you really want to, ensure this is with trusted friends and loved ones, where you can be sure they’ll be no judgement. It’s also worth checking in with yourself to see what you hope to gain by sharing any thoughts with them.
Need a helping hand?
Journaling is often one of the key tools that helps support my clients on their coaching journey, if you’d like to find out more about how I can help you with making improvements to your life, why drop me a line!
Let’s join together to end the stigma around mental health, and understand how we can support each other. To all those suffering with a mental illness right now, know that you are not alone, and there are people here to help you: