Looking for a self-help tool that really works? You might not need much more than a pen and some paper. But how exactly can a 'mental health journal' help?
What are the steps to take when writing yourself better?
When we are depressed it can seem difficult to remember a time we ever weren’t. But then once we feel better, we can downplay the issue and think we are fine. Until the blues hit again.
Write down how you feel each day, along with what triggered any low moods or good moods. The next time you are down, look back to remind yourself low moods eventually change, or what helps you shift things. If you instead find you are constantly recording sadness and despair, then you have the proof that it's now time to seek proper support.
Gratitude has long been found to raise wellbeing and focus in healthy individuals. And now a recent study at the university of Berkely California also shows that it helps even if you are already depressed. Simply writing one letter of gratitude a week can improve your mood within a month.
Better yet, try to record five things you are grateful for in your journal every day, no matter how small or big.
It's easy to think we never learn or change, forgetting that the job we now find boring was once a goal, or that we used to think we’d never know how to drive. Keeping track of things we get done means we can look back and see how far we've come. It can also counteract a tendency to self-criticise.
As well as journalling about what you are grateful for, try recording three things each day you achieved, or are proud of.
Grew up in a household where you had to be ‘good’ to earn love and attention? The end result can be growing up into an adult who is so busy pleasing others and fitting in you have no idea who you really are.
Journalling, if you do it daily and try not to judge what comes out onto the page, can be a way to learn more about who you really are.
The worst thing we can do if we don’t like what someone has done or said is to instigate a discussion when we are ‘hot’ with emotion. We end up saying things we regret, and rarely get the result we want.
It’s far better to approach things from a calm space where we are rational. But how? By journaling first.
It can help in this case to use loose pages you promise to rip up after. This creates a safe space for your unconscious to feel free to unload. Let yourself write out everything and anything, no matter how ‘bad’ or ‘mean’. Don’t worry about penmanship and don’t read it back. Just write until you feel the mood shift. Then do rip and throw out.
The above ‘stream of consciousness’ journalling technique also works if you feel frustrated and don’t know why, or just woke up not feeling yourself.
Write without judgement, letting yourself say outrageous things, then rip it up. If emotions rise, keep writing until you feel a release, such as breaking into tears.
Take a tip from gestalt therapy and use journalling to ‘dialog’ with someone or something that has long upset you. For example, write a letter to the grammar school teacher you felt singled you out.
Say all the things you wished you could have said then. You can then also take the other perspective -- write a letter from that other person to yourself. Keep going back and forth until you feel a sense of resolution.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing and expert and writer. Follow her on Instagram for more useful life tips @am_darcy