It’s important for maintaining wellness and positive mental health to do the things that make us feel good about ourselves and what’s going on in our lives. These are typically called coping skills. Today I’d like to write about one that many find helpful: Journaling.
Journaling is a concrete tool that can be used as a coping skill to help better manage your mental health. What do I mean by journaling? It’s keeping a record of the insight you’re gaining, the changes you’re working on, the achievements you’ve made through this process, and keeping the positive change going.
For some I’ve provided therapy to, if they’ve never journaled, it can be a little uncomfortable. And they might not initially see the value in it. If you’re feeling apprehensive, let me help you.
Release of Negative Emotions And Rational Reflection
These are generally the two types of journal entries. The first is a blast of negative emotions to typically stop the cycle referred to as rumination. Just let go with everything you’ve got going on in your mind. Don’t worry about grammar, whether it makes sense, you repeat yourself, or whether it flows properly. If you’re comfortable, don’t censor yourself. The point is to put on the page (or screen) everything that’s causing you emotional pain. The second is reflecting on things when you’re not emotional to rationally analyze your progress. It could also be some thoughts you’d like to get down that you think would be helpful to utilize in the future.
When positive change is slow, it can be difficult to track the progress that you’ve made. Let’s take the example of someone who wants to lose 20 pounds over the next year. After a year, the person has achieved the goal. But because the change happened over a long period of time and the positive change was physical, it can be difficult to see the overall improvement, even if achieving the goal. Now let’s say after the weight loss the person sees a friend for the first time in a year. That friend would likely react with excitement of what the person did because the friend had the benefit of that gap in time.
If the person decided to journal along the way, including take photos (which I acknowledge can be emotionally difficult), the person would have a record of the concrete and emotional progress that’s happened. In statistics, this is called quantitative (i.e., numbers) and qualitative (i.e., anecdotal) data. Tracking things like the number of pounds lost and sometimes maybe gained back, the emotions of those two scenarios, what the person did to help get through the tough times, among other things. The person can also use numbers on a scale to track mood, anxiety and other emotions. For example, a rating of 1 would be feeling incredible, 5 would be “meh,” and 10 would be horrible. If the person does this once a week or more, trends can be observed. And with anecdotal data, such as “I feel horrible and guilty today because I gained back 2 pounds,” that could explain why that particular day the person put a rating of 8 for mood.
Write or Type?
Some people prefer to hand write and others type. One is not necessarily better than the other, it’s what works best for you. I’d suggest you try both because you may be surprised that the one you thought you’d prefer is not the one you use.
Keep or Don’t Keep?
I always recommend that people keep the journal content, whether on paper or digitally. As I mentioned earlier, a benefit is the ability to track progress. It can be extremely powerful to look back six months and see how much positive development you’ve accomplished through your hard work.
Don’t Try It Only Once
When trying something new, I always recommend doing it at least three times. Whether it's meditation, attending a support group or journaling, the first time may be uncomfortable because it’s new. But by the third time it feels right or it doesn’t and you can move onto something else. For example, if you attend a support group for the first time and there’s someone there monopolizing the conversation and interrupting people, you may think it’s like this all the time and not return. The reality could be that person doesn’t come back. If you don't try it again, you’d never know that and miss out on something that could be helpful for you.
No Minimum Word Count
Don’t feel like you have to fill up the entire page with content. The point is to get out what you need to, and not put pressure on yourself to meet some unnecessary ideal.
Take the opportunity to celebrate your accomplishments through this process. Journaling can have the effect of making it more real. This will enhance the positive feelings you have for the accomplishment and for yourself.
Lastly - Keep in mind that you don’t have to share your journal with anyone.
I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you’re doing it, continue. If you’ve done it before, pick it up again. If you’ve never journaled, give it a try. I’m confident it will be a coping skill for you that can be beneficial both personally and professionally.