Effectively Journaling for Mental Health

mental health journal

Mental health is an often overlooked part of wellness. Physical exercise can be challenging and eating healthy to maintain body wellness can be a struggle at times, but managing mental health can be just as hard and requires just as much commitment—if not more. 

That’s why approaching mental health from a holistic wellness standpoint just as much as you would anything else is so important: your mind is the main pillar in the mind-body connection, so if you’re not taking care of it, it’s doubly hard to live well and mindfully.

It can be so easy to procrastinate about care in this area of our lives. I know, because I've been there. I was so busy ensuring my family was cared for and that I was accomplishing the demands at the office, that I overlooked the mental health aspect of my wellness despite even having a regular yoga routine. Now I realize that my family, my job and myself would have been better served had I carved out just five minutes of time a day to focus on my mental well-being.

The JMB Living Journal helps ensure that you have a pocket of time each day to reflect on joy, beauty and your small personal wins, but, most importantly, it encourages you to have a moment of self-care where you get to be alone and decompress from your day with an intention to calm your mind. In this blog post we'll look at how to spend this time in ways that are going to be most effective at elevating your mental well-being.

The self-care aspect of journaling is a huge part of mental health and there are so many ways we can approach it. Many professionals recommend journaling because it can be so therapeutic; you get to express all of your ups and downs without any interruptions or pressure to feel like there’s a right or a wrong thing to say.

Journaling Prompts for Mental Health

journal therapy


Using specific journal prompts can be a great way to get the ball rolling when you sit down to let your thoughts flow onto the paper. Here a few to try that can be quite insightful:

"What has been weighing heavily on my mind lately and what could I do to lessen this load?"

"What prevents me from living my best life each day?"

"I could live without…"

"What fear is behind my inability to allow myself sufficient downtime and rest?"

"Describe what your life will look like and feel like after you have moved through your current challenges."

"Describe a time in the past where you struggled and ultimately were able to overcome the challenge."

Prompted journaling for mental health is beneficial because it allows you to deeply work through specific pain points or recognize patterns, triggers, or stressors. This increased self awareness can help you remember to breathe deeply in certain situations and intentionally use positive self-talk to help calm both your mind and your body. 

Freeform journaling is also a great mental health tool. Just set a timer and write whatever comes to mind. Reading back over your writing can help you realize things that might be weighing more heavily on you than you thought. Consider this subconscious narrative a compass for internal wounds that you can focus on healing.

Ensuring Your Journaling is Effective

A simple brain dump, may or may not feel good, depending on what ends up on the paper, so it is important to be intentional with your time journaling if you are seeking to use it as a method to improve your mental well-being.

Choose a time to journal when you know you won't be interrupted. And bonus points if you set the stage to make this an enjoyable experience. Grab your favorite hot drink. Light a candle. Snuggle up in a cozy spot and intend this time to be special for you.

Allow yourself sufficient time to reflect both before and after putting your thoughts on paper. This step is crucial for recognizing insights that can help you change patterns in a way that can improve your relationship with yourself, others and your interaction in the world in general. 

Don't force yourself to write about things that are painful or that are still too raw to approach. Let your intuition be your guide and write about what you feel comfortable and compelled to explore on paper. 

Be careful not to let journaling be an avenue for wallowing in the negative aspects for your life or a time for being self critical. While taking responsibility for situations that didn't go well can result in feeling empowered, it is important to approach journaling from a perspective of seeking to find insights for healing, growth and ideas for improving your future experiences.

 Decreasing Anxiety with Curiosity

The previous methods of journaling I’ve offered are great for depression and everyday mental health management, but sometimes anxiety can be highly overwhelming and requires a different approach.

I’ve found that I can more easily pinpoint, reduce and sit with my anxiety enough to gain helpful insights from it by being intentionally curious. This helps distract me from the stress of the current situation while giving me space to recognize and explore the source of my worries, fears or overwhelm:

  1. Close your eyes, connect with your heart and intend to be curious.

  2. Where do you feel anxiety in your body? Are there boundaries? A shape?

  3. Allow yourself to simply notice what's happening without trying to change it.

  4. Can you soften the experience by giving yourself grace and kindness?

  5. Try saying hello to your inner critic or reassure yourself with an "it's okay"

  6. From a place of kindness, look for negative thought patterns that cause stress

  7. Listen for insights of changes you could make, help you could ask for, etc.

  8. Allow a smile and a few deep breaths with an intention to calm your body.

  9. Journal about your insights to help you recognize stress & soften it when it occurs.

Long-Term Mental Health Journaling Methods

journaling anxiety

For maintaining or improving daily mental health, I recommend journaling styles that focus on the positive. I’ve heard from some JMB Living Journal users that the more they filled out their daily prompts of beauty, joy and a daily win, their depression lessened. Sometimes depression can feel like being deep underwater where everything is slower, there’s less light, and you’re disconnected from the rest of the world. I've been there. I've felt it. And it's not a pleasant place to be.

However, I found that on the days that I intentionally and actively looked for beauty and joy I was able to also feel some glimmers of hope. Those small tiny flickers of happiness were so helpful when the rest of life felt so grey.

When you make an intention (or even just start out going through the motions) to find something small each day that brings you joy or makes you feel a sense of awe, it becomes easier to experience small joys and beauty every day.

Just like it takes at least 30 days to make a habit, once this perspective shift becomes a habit you'll begin to automatically recognize more moments of beauty and joy each day. As you start to feel these positive feelings without a second thought, it clears the murkiness of depression and you slowly rise closer to the surface of the water where there is light and clarity.

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