When we’re carrying something heavy, we get relief when we put it down. It works the same with thoughts: when there’s a lot on our mind, we can give ourselves a break by putting it down. It’s just that this time, we put it down on paper.
Writing out your thoughts and feelings, especially during times of uncertainty, can be tremendously beneficial for your mental health. Journaling has been proven to lower anxiety, increase mindfulness, improve memory, and stimulate creativity. It has even been shown to boost your immune system.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “A journal can help you track how you’ve been feeling and functioning over time and how you may have handled difficulties in the past. It can also help you identify areas that you want to focus on or change.”
This cost-effective practice can greatly help to label and regulate your emotions, making space for a rich, introspective life. Research also shows that a regular journaling practice can help you to recognize negative thought patterns and behaviors and is especially beneficial for individuals who suffer from PTSD. Starting any type of practice can feel intimidating, so we’re here to help you carve out a safe space to get vulnerable and write your heart out.
1. Determine what journaling method works best for you.
One of the great things about journaling is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. Whether you gravitate to a romantic, leather-bound notebook or prefer typing away on your laptop, how to best record your most intimate thoughts is a highly personal decision.
Some people feel most liberated when they put pen to paper. Simple paper journals or notebooks can help you disconnect, without distraction, and give you a much-needed break from screen time. When journaling in a notebook, there is also less likelihood of getting caught up in grammar or spelling concerns.
Others prefer to keep an electronic journal, saved in a password-protected file on their computer, or through a dedicated app. The perk of e-journaling is the quick pace that one can type up a page and the ability to archive and search old entries. Consider turning off notifications if you find yourself getting distracted while journaling on your computer.
You can also record entries when you enter your Mood in Sanvello, or head into the Tools section, choose Thoughts, and then tap on “Journal.” That way all your mental health progress is saved in one secure place.
2. Create time and space for your new practice.
A great way to establish a journaling routine is to carve out a dedicated space and time for your practice. Experiment and see if you prefer to write daily, weekly, or whenever something is on your mind.
According to one study, those who participated in expressive writing for 15 to 20 minutes a day, three to five times, over the course of a four-month period showed notable health benefits. Most notably, the participants experienced lowered blood pressure.
You may want to journal in the morning, allowing you to start your day from a grounded, introspective place. Some people like to end the day by journaling, reflecting on the day in order to create mental clarity and to make space for reflection. The point is simply to create a routine that works best for your life.
Some find it helpful to set a timer for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes to provide structure. If this works for you, set an alarm and write continuously for that allotted amount of time. You can also set a word or page limit while journaling.
It’s helpful to seek out a calming, quiet space that is free of distractions. A cozy armchair, your bed with a candle lit nearby, or outdoors with a cup of coffee are all options for creating a special journaling spot.
3. Time to write it all out.
So, you’ve carved out space and time, have your journal in-hand, but now what? The blank page can be intimidating, so try your best to make this a judgment-free zone. There are no rules when it comes to content for your journal. You may want to write about your day, how you’re feeling, or something noteworthy that happened.
Many find it helpful to start with a free writing session in which they simply write down their stream of consciousness. This is a time to shut off your internal editor and let the thoughts simply flow. Whatever comes into your mind is reflected on the page in free writing sessions.
Some people find it cathartic to write letters to others without the intention of actually sending them to the imagined recipient. It can be incredibly therapeutic to express your feelings to someone who has hurt you, someone who has inspired you, or even writing a letter to your younger self.
4. Consider using a prompt.
If you’re in need of inspiration, journal prompts can help to ignite your imagination and open your mind. Here are a few journal prompt suggestions:
- How am I feeling today?
- What did I learn yesterday?
- What am I grateful for?
- What are the words I need to hear today?
- What is the greatest gift I ever received?
- When do I feel most connected to other people?
- Write about one of your happiest memories.
- Write about a risk you’ve taken.
- Write about a recent challenge that you faced.
If you find yourself getting stuck on what to write, consider creating a journal jar. All you’ll need is a dedicated jar or mug from around your house. Write or print out thoughtful journal prompts on small slips of paper, fold up, and put inside of your jar. The prompts can also be as simple as one word. As you prepare to write each day, pull a piece of paper from the jar and use the prompt to get you started. You can get creative by adding inspirational quotes or images cut from magazines.
Above all, remember that your journal is a safe space for you to express yourself. Try not to not get too caught up in spelling, grammar, or attempting to be too deep or insightful. Your writing is not intended for an audience, so give yourself permission to be as raw and unfiltered as possible. Again, your journal is a judgment-free, publishing-free, sharing-free zone. It’s just a place to put down the load you’re carrying, help you sort through thoughts, and process.
As you build upon your practice, revisiting journal entries from days and weeks back can be helpful in gaining perspective. It may take some time to find your groove. Try out different styles of journaling and see what feels best for you. The more you write, the easier it will become. Happy journaling!