Journaling is an incredibly useful tool for supporting your mental health. Studies show that writing down your thoughts, feelings and anxieties can help alleviate some of the suffering associated with them. It also helps put language to our experience, often in our mind we feel or visualize, without actually describing what’s going on and how we feel about it. Keeping notes for therapy can be incredibly helpful too! When you sit down in the chair, and your therapist asks, ‘what is on your mind today?’ you can have a list at the ready!
Journaling has also made so many advancements from the ‘Dear Diary’ letters that some of us might be used to. Journaling can be as simple and accessible as you need it to be, or as deep and complex as you like! However you like to journal, it’s important to be consistent and honest.
Here are some ideas:
Bullet journal - Also known as a to-do list, is a quick, easy way to jot down things to remember. A list of words, themes or short sentences of tasks to do, or any other type of list that suits you.
Gratitude journal - A great way to focus on the positive things, and not just the things we have to complain about. Pick any number of things to list that you are grateful for about today.
Habit Tracker - Keep track of the habits you are trying to build by setting a schedule that keeps track of them for you! You can get as creative as you want with this, or use a simple grid listing the habits you will achieve each day, then check them off when they are complete! There are also some great habit tracker apps out there, check them out!
Agenda journals - If you are like me, and still use a paper and pen system for your daily schedule, some agendas include spots and prompts for daily reflections, gratitude, to-do lists and habit trackers! These are handy multi-tools where your schedule and journaling are kept in the same place! Check out your local bookstore to see if this option interests you.
One line a day - Most of these are set up as a 5 year memory journal. On each page is the date, and 5 spots to write one line about the day. Every day for 5 years. This is a quick and fun way to capture significant moments, life’s ups and downs and other important keepsakes for 5 years. What a treasure!
Colours, pictures, symbols - Not great with words? Images and colours work better for you? This journal style is great for that. Again, you can be as creative as you want with this. One way I like to use this journal style is to track my mood. Using a grid, and a legend, assign a colour to each mood, and colour a square per day to track the primary emotion or mood you were in that day. You can use pictures or symbols the same way. Bonus! This is a great mindfulness strategy. By checking in each day to see how you are feeling increases self-awareness.
Digital journal - Technology has made so many advancements, and now that we have a mini computer at our fingertips all day long, what a great place to also keep our journal! You can use your notes app, or a specific journal app to keep track of thoughts, feelings and interactions throughout your day. If you don’t like the idea of using your phone, and prefer typing to writing, you can use a document on your computer instead.
Stream of consciousness journaling - The quickest way to get thoughts on paper. This style has no writing rules, no grammar, and punctuation is not even necessary. Just put pen to paper, and write what comes to mind as it comes. It doesn’t require planning, structure or processing. Just write. This also may be messy, the idea is to try and write as fast as your thoughts.
One final note on journaling. White the act of writing or tracking alone can be cathartic, journaling often has the best results when they are revisited and reflected upon. A trick I picked up from a former therapist of mine, is to track emotions. So whenever I got teary while journaling, rather than disrupt the process, I simply underlined what I had just written. That way, when I went back over my journal notes, I could see what had brought up some emotion, and perhaps needed to spend some more time talking about or reflecting on. You could also use your journal as an annual reflection, celebrate your achievements and notice how you have grown and changed throughout the year. More practically, you can use your journal in your therapy sessions. Of course, your journal is private and doesn’t need to be shared openly, you can use it for talking points, or to remember something that was particularly hard for you that you want to discuss with your therapist.