How to Start Journaling for Mental Health

By January 13, 2022Mental Health
how to start journaling for mental health

Journaling is one of the easiest, most accessible, and low-cost ways to nurture mental health. 

There are many ways to journal. It’s ok to experiment and play around until you find a practice that fits you. If you’re doing journaling at all, then you’re learning and you’re on your way.

Free writing

As the name suggests, the practice of free writing involves writing freely and without stopping for a predetermined amount of time, such as for 15 minutes. 

Important to understand is that you are not writing anything specific, you are more like dumping out the contents of your mind, a bit like you might overturn a messy drawer to see what is in there. 

Like meditation, the practice is to simply notice what is there without engaging with it particularly, letting it appear & disappear according to its own flows.

You are not writing for the outcome, as you might if you were composing a poem or an essay. It’s more like mental jogging. 

The biggest challenge of free writing is our tendency to interrupt ourselves with judgments. We may find it’s hard to let go; we may want to control, shape, or manage what we are writing. 

With repetition you get the hang of simply turning on the tap of words and letting them flow. 

Benefits of free writing:

Free writing builds trust in the unknown, and strengthens powers of discipline, concentration, and focus. 

Journaling About Feelings

Journaling about feelings is a more targeted technique, and the time to use it is when you notice you’re upset.  

When triggered to use, or feeling hurt, anxious or angry, we don’t want to act on those feelings or share those raw emotions and thoughts just yet.

Rather, we can transmute the feelings into something easier to share and safer to act on by first spending time journaling on the question: “What’s going on with me right now?”

Very important with this journaling method: Don’t try to be good. Don’t should on yourself, by judging, suppressing or trying to improve the feelings. Feelings hate that. 

Rather, just let the feelings out. Let the thoughts, especially the ugly, selfish, angry, babyish ones, be just as they are. Personally, I’m a big believer in cussing in my journal. 

Benefits of Journaling About Feelings:

After releasing the full emotion and all it has to say into the journal, you feel better and you know more about what’s really going on. Then you can make calm decisions about what, if anything, you want to say and do from here. 

Lists

Lists are exactly what they sound like. You identify a category and list all the things you can think of that go in that category. 

Suggested lists to journal on:  

What am I grateful for? 

What do I surrender to my Higher Power? 

What am I holding as a burden today? 

What do I need help with today? 

What do I long for?

The options are infinite, so certainly make up your own categories. You can get very creative. 

However there are two key lists which are helpful for anyone in recovery: a List of Fears and a List of Resentments. That’s because fears and resentments are the biggest triggers to use. So definitely include the following two lists in your practice from time to time:

What am I mad about? 

What am I scared of?

After completing a list, the suggestion is that you take a moment to form the intention in your mind and heart, to surrender all of the items on the list to God, your higher power, or to your own inner Observer (whatever loving presence is the most trustworthy to you.) 

Benefits of Lists:

In addition to helping you get back to surrender, lists create space in the psyche, giving you room to breathe again. 

Dialogue

My personal favorite journaling tool is dialogue. 

The way to dialogue is write out a conversation, in the same format as you would a script for a play or a film. The dialogue is between yourself and some portion of yourself that you’re curious about or struggling with. 

Me: Hi, again, Fear. 

My Fear: Hi Holly Mae.

Me: How are you doing? 

Fear: Not great… 

Me: Ah. Want to tell me about it?

Go back and forth between the sides of you and witness their interaction. 

Benefits of Dialogue: 

Dialogue allows you to get to know the many different sides of your own nature. This helps you to dis-identify from all of them, while you gradually grow to care more for each side of you. Ultimately, dialogue leads you to harmonize all the forces moving and shaping you from within. 

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Have fun journaling!

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