Journaling your way to better mental health and well-being
I’m just writing a quick and less involved entry this morning to give myself a bit of a break after yesterday’s complicated and contentious offering.
Today I’m going to share a few thoughts about the benefits of journaling which is something I’m almost cringing with embarrassment about as I write these very words!
Journaling isn’t just for women!
Journaling for most men would seem like a ridiculous idea and a complete waste of time. I was certainly one of the cynics when I first started doing it, but as I’ve progressed, I’ve realised that it brings huge benefits and is especially useful for those of us with mental health conditions.
My reason for first setting up a blog was that I wanted to document my journey through the ketamine infusions (horror story as it turned out), so that other people could benefit from my experience.
I have now been blogging and journaling for about four years and some of the posts have even been used to illustrate my journey to full remission from bipolar disorder in a book (hopefully coming soon).
Over the years I have noticed that writing has had a really positive effect on my mental health for a number of different reasons, some of which I will now discuss.
Accessing the present moment
With mental illness (especially depression) comes a lot of rumination over past and future events and occurrences. It is almost impossible to access the present moment when you are experiencing an episode because the mind is continuously whirring from thought to thought in a washing machine of negativity.
The thinking is so distorted that everything gets catastrophised, and it is impossible to escape from the barrage of dark thoughts that dominate your every waking moment.
This is where journaling can really help because when you engage with the act of writing it permits your brain to access the now rather than worrying about the past or the future.
Admittedly, when I was in the throes of severe depression, it was almost impossible to find the motivation to write or read. However, I did find that if I persisted, I could experience a temporary release from the horrors of the illness and escaping the torture of my own mind (however briefly) was in part responsible for my survival and recovery.
Calming and clearing the mind
I don’t do this often but having a good rant on a blog or in a diary can really help to clear your mind of the negative energy surrounding issues and problems that occur in our daily lives.
Writing down your problems and worries somehow softens their impact and allows you to think more clearly and effectively.
There is something unexplainable that happens when you take the thoughts out of your brain and dump them on a page or screen; they dissipate ever so slightly and never seem quite so disconcerting afterwards.
Letting go of negative thoughts
The same thing happens when you release your negative thoughts and stresses onto the page. The process of writing them down softens their hold over you and their impact subsides temporarily.
Having your thoughts down on paper means that they don’t have to be stored in your mind and this can give you an opportunity for some respite and relaxation.
Documenting failures and successes
Noting down the things that you struggle with can help you to identify clear patterns and this gives you a reference point to work from as you progress and develop as a person.
Conversely, noting down your successes can bring you pleasure when you look back retrospectively, and this gives you the opportunity to implement self-praise (something that all depressives need to work hard on!)
The process of documenting your journey through life can help to add clarity to what you are trying to achieve and can help you to plan for future goals and ambitions.
Enhancing self-awareness and identifying your triggers
If you are suffering from a mental illness then documenting your progress can be a really effective way of identifying any triggers or less obvious patterns in your mood.
By keeping a ‘mood journal’ you will be able to easily see where and what was going on at a specific time which can help you to make sense of your illness as it is, or was, happening.
This is particularly important when you are taking medications because keeping track of any side effects or withdrawal problems is essential when it comes to finding the right drug/dose for each individual person.
There have been numerous times when I’ve been able to look back at previous blog entries and correlate a side effect with taking a specific medication. I find that this helps me to be the ‘expert of myself’ and make the most informed decisions regarding my own treatment.
Tracking your progress as you recover
Recovering from a mental illness can be a long and arduous road. Rarely is it plain or smooth sailing and there are bound to be bumps in the road and a myriad of setbacks along the way.
Having things noted down can really help when it comes to identifying progress because sometimes it may seem as though you are getting nowhere at all, yet if you look back to where you were, things can actually have improved quite a bit.
Being aware of progress (however small) can help to encourage you to keep persisting on your journey to full mental wellness and can bring comfort and hope when it is needed most.
There are many other benefits associated with journaling that I haven’t mentioned here, and the effects of reading self-help (‘cringe’ – but v. useful too!) and journaling have even been recognised in a body of research.
If you would like to know more about the positive gains from journaling and blogging, then I have added an interesting article with links to research which you can find here.
I won’t be writing tomorrow as I am now posting this and then catching a train to Wimbledon to watch the tennis which I am very excited about!
Finally, the opportunity to do something associated with enjoyment (due to illness and pandemic).
This has been a very long time coming!!
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,