How to Journal for Mental Health

When I first started going to Al-Anon, AA for families of alcoholics, someone suggested the idea of journaling. Going to these group sessions was my first step in healing, which my addict boyfriend preferred because they wouldn’t tell me to leave him. I was trying to do anything to pull me out of this spiral I was stuck in, so I greedily took in all advice they gave me.

When one of the ladies mentioned how much journaling was helping her with her husband, I was intrigued. Wasn’t that something for kids and professionals? Why would I keep a journal now? After the meeting, I pulled her aside and asked her to explain why she was journaling and how it was helping.

For the next month, every night, I tried my hand at journaling. It quickly became clear that I had no idea what to do. I would often stare at the blank page, begging my mind to pour out something profound. It wasn’t until I went to my first therapy session that I really learned how to journal.

1a. The first step is to decide how you want to go about writing. Some people prefer to type on a keyboard, while others prefer to write by hand. For me, I find my computer to distracting. I’m so much more likely to forget to journal at all and waste my time on Facebook instead. I also like to doodle as I go, because sometimes words just don’t do my thoughts justice. While I could still do this on a computer, it’s nowhere near as fun for me. But what matters is that you find a way to journal that fits you.

1b. If you decide to get a book, I recommend you find a journal that fits your style. If the book is plain or doesn’t fit your needs, you won’t use it. Are you the kind of person that doodles and writes all over the page? If so, a dotted or blank journal might be best for you. If you prefer to keep things organized, then a lined book my work best for you. Next, find one that looks “cute” or “stylish.” Having an eye-catching journal will make it easier for you to notice it. If it blends in with the rest of your environment, you may forget about it altogether.

2. Pick a time to write. This may be right when you wake up before you go to sleep, or on your lunch break. Doing something at the same time every day will make the habit more likely to stick. I pick before bed because I find it a relaxing way to get all of my worries out so I can sleep.

3. Pick your writing space. This could be at your computer, on a pillow beside your bed, or at a park near your work. Where ever it is, make sure that you can have a relaxing moment during the time you’ve picked to write. Bonus tip, keep your journal in this space. If that’s not ideal, keep it in a bag that you will take with you to this space. It’s all about habit and routine.

4. Now write! This is the most important step in the whole process. It’s also the hardest when you first start out. Something I tried was writing about nothing. Write about what you see, hear, feel, etc. It’s a skill that you have to practice, so don’t stress if it’s not easy at first. It will get easier with time.

5. Repeat the previous steps as you need to. If something feels like it’s not working for you, then change it. This is all about your experience and your comfort. Make changes as you need them, write more than once a day or maybe every other day. The important thing is to find something that helps you with your mental health.

6. If you’re also going to therapy, it can sometimes be useful to read these entries to your therapist to give them an unfiltered look into your mind. This can help both of you get to the root of any problems you have and help you get further down the path of healing.

With or without a therapist, journaling is an effective tool to relax, reflex, and grow. It’s one of the easiest ways to get all of your anger, fears, and worries out of your system while still having a log, you can look back on to reflect on your thoughts.
What system works best for you, and how has journaling helped you? Let me know in the comments below.