Self Care through Journaling

How you can incorporate this important tool for mental wellness

a woman in an orange dress journaling

In our discussion about self care and how to protect your mental wellness, journaling was a major part of our toolbox.  Journaling can be tough if you haven’t practiced it before.  When I started journaling just the process of staring at a blank page and willing words to come out was pure stress.  However, over time I’ve found prompts that spark real conversations with my inner self and help me understand myself, my stress and my anxiety just a little bit better.

Journaling has been linked in many studies to improved mental health - by reducing anxiety and stress.  By unloading all the extra “stuff” your brain is processing through  you can free up those cells to tackle new input, making you better able to engage your daily life. Journaling lets all your worries and experiences you would otherwise stay focused on end up on paper instead of cluttering up your brain.

Getting started with Journaling

For me, getting started began with office supplies.  Take time to pick out a journal that you want to write in - that may mean a big flashy one with prompts built it.  It might be a cheap spiral notebook.  My choice was a medium sized Molskein notebook - something small enough to carry everywhere I go, and that I can personalize with reckless abandon.  The idea is to pick something out that you can make your own, and that you’ll want to write in.  

A decorated journal on a table with a book, candle and CD by Kellee Maize
I always decorate my journal to match my personality - this year I’m all about Pokemon and Harry Potter, and so is my journal!

Think about when - and perhaps where - you want to journal.  If you are regularly on-the-go and have limited downtime a journal you can carry with you and use when on a quick 10 minute break might be perfect for you.  If you always have 20 minutes before bed to fill, that’s a great journaling time.  Make sure your journal is where it needs to be  when you want to use it.  

Pick a few favorite prompts to get you started

When journaling for mental health you want to start with a great prompt.  This helps you free up your mind from the anxiety of “where to start”.  I always keep the first 2-3 pages of each new journal empty so I can use those pages to write in my favorite prompts.  Then when I am ready to journal I just look through the list to see which jumps out at me most on that day.    

Open Journal with CD and Book showing prompts for journaling written on front page
Make sure to leave a few pages for your favorite prompts at the start of your journal

My top ten journaling prompts:

  1. What story have I been living lately? What is my ‘story of the moment’?
  2. In this moment, what do I fear the most? Why? Is my fear rational?
  3. How I feel today relates most to (this positive memory), I can use this to make today a positive memory by...
  4. One of the people in my life who makes me feel at ease is _______ and how they make me feel that way is by…  
  5. How I feel today relates to (this difficult time or memory) and how I coped with that during that time was… I would like to change/not change my coping mechanism because...
  6. Today, the top 3 feeling-states that I wish to create, share, or experience with others around me are: _______, _______ and _______.
  7. The 3 coping mechanisms I have used most recently are _______, _______ and _______ - they have been successful/unsuccessful/helpful/detrimental.  If unsuccessful/detrimental, why and what change could I make?  If successful/helpful, how can I reinforce that behavior?
  8. Right now, physically I feel…. (Just a detailed reflection of your physical being).  
  9. Right now I feel like the element of (Earth, Fire, Air, Water) is most influencing me (and why)
  10. If how I was feeling right now were a color, I’d feel somewhere between the colors _______ and ______. (and why)

Sometimes none of the prompts I have prepared are quite right for how I’m feeling at the moment.  If that happens I’ll either just look around the web to find some new prompt ideas, or I’ll reach for Kellee’s Book full of amazing thought provoking lyrics and images to be my prompt.  Having a book on hand that you can open randomly can make your daily journaling activity fresh and informative.  

It’s time to get started Journaling

You have a journal and you have a prompt, now it is time to sit down and write.  Since the idea of journaling is to relieve stress, make sure you aren’t pressuring yourself to write in a particular way or for a particular amount of time.  The important thing is to just start - answer the prompt as best as you can and stay mindful on your subject.  Write for as much time as you need to to answer the prompt for the day.  As you write, stay focused on your topic and on writing with honesty.  

Writing a simple first sentence or the prompt at the top of your page can help you get started

Because I never have the same schedule from one day to the next I usually do my journaling while on the bus between other life locations.  I find that it’s usually just enough time to process what is churning in my mind - and the limit on how long I can write usually does a great job of making me stay focused on the task.  

Your journaling schedule might look a little different - perhaps you will always want to write down your thoughts at the end of each day - or in the morning so you can start with a fresh mind.  Journaling over a lunch break can help divide the stresses of your day and give you a new look for the afternoon. 

Review past entries and look for themes

Every week I read through what I have written over the past 2 weeks.  This lets me review and see what stresses I might be facing that could be lessened, and what coping mechanisms have worked best.  I often learn more about myself reviewing past entries than I do in writing the entry for each day.  Regularly reviewing your entries can help you understand yourself and your stress in ways that you might not otherwise. 

Sarah Knight

Sarah returned to her education after 10 years of real world experience.
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