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Journaling for Mental Health

closeup of a person writing in a journal - journaling

If you are being treated for a mental health disorder, it might sometimes feel like the myriad professionals involved in your treatment are driving the process rather than encouraging you to participate in your own recovery. But there are many ways those suffering from a mental illness can engage in their recovery. Journaling is one very beneficial type of self-care.

Journaling Is:

  • Inexpensive – pen and paper, or fingers and keyboard, are not costly
  • Compatible with medications and talk therapy
  • Something that can be done in a short amount of time
  • Portable
  • Flexible – it can be done whatever way best suits the individual
  • Something that can be shared with a counselor or kept private

Benefits of Using a Journal

WebMD offers a number of ways that journaling can benefit people who struggle with mental health. Journaling can:

  • Reduce anxiety
  • Refocus the mind away from loops of negative thoughts
  • Increase awareness
  • Regulate emotions
  • Make it easier to reach out for support from others
  • Potentially improve physical health

Suggestions for Using Your Journal

When journaling, WebMD suggests that people consider a few things:

  1. Try writing by hand first. While it is possible to journal electronically, sometimes writing things out by hand can be especially cathartic.
  2. Form a habit. By setting aside a certain time each day for journaling, you help your mind prepare for the process and become comfortable in a routine.
  3. Strive for simplicity. Initially, focus on writing for a short period of time. It may help to set a timer.
  4. Do what comes naturally. Don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure; just focus on getting your thoughts and feelings out on paper
  5. Get creative. Journal entries don’t have to follow the same format every time.
    • Write a poem
    • Make a list Consider an art journal, which may or may not include words
    • Compose a song
    • Write a letter to your former self or another person
  6. Don’t set high expectations. This isn’t about generating a product for someone else; it’s about helping yourself.

Forms of Journaling

As mentioned above, journaling can take on a number of different forms. There isn’t a single, universal method. A presenter at the 2015 National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) conference, Dr. Beth Terrence, listed the following as some ways people choose to journal:

  • Stream of consciousness – put pen to paper and just let the thoughts flow without trying to guide them in any specific way.
  • Lists – set a topic (feelings, choices, losses, enjoyable experiences, triggers, coping skills, etc.) and list out everything you can think of in that category.
  • Gratitude-focused – write about things for which you are grateful.
  • Affirmations or intentions – affirmations are positive statements about yourself; intentions are things you wish to accomplish.
  • Prayers and blessings – you can write out the things you wish to see happen in the lives of yourself and your loved ones in the form of prayers or blessings.
  • Daily Inventory – a journal can be used to process and reflect on the day. What went well? What didn’t? Where are you at in the progress toward various goals?

Writer’s Block

Sometimes, even if a person is willing and eager to write, it can be difficult to come up with a topic. It can be helpful to seek out some journal writing prompts:

  • Describe your perfect day.
  • What do you wish other people knew about you?
  • What made you happy today?
  • What are the best things about you?
  • What is a hardship you have experienced? How did you deal with it?

For Loved Ones

If you have a loved one who is utilizing journaling to support their mental health recovery, it is important to treat the journal like a therapy session. You would not eavesdrop on another person’s appointment with their counselor, so if you happen to find someone’s journal, you should not violate their trust by reading it. A person in recovery needs to feel safe in journaling their thoughts and feelings without risk of judgment or hurting someone’s feelings. They cannot have this sense of safety if they don’t also have privacy. If you have concerns for their well-being, it is best to address these with your friend or family member or to utilize other members of their support system, such as their therapist, to ensure that they are safe.

If you have questions about journaling or other tools for mental health, Highland Hospital has professionals on staff who can help you or your loved one learn more about ways to take an active role in your own mental health.

For more information about Highland Hospital and the services we offer, please call and speak with someone today at (304) 322-3037. Highland can help.

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