Journaling Is an Effective Tool for Maintaining Good Mental Health

Scott Ninneman @ Speaking Bipolar

How keeping a journal can make your life better.
Journal and pen next to a cup of tea.Photo byFree Photos/Pixabay

How much noise is in your head right now?

Is there an unending list of things you need to do and people you should call? Does the pure volume of information running through your mind overwhelm you?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you should be keeping a journal.

In fact, everyone should.

Now before you scoff, thinking there's no way you will ever write, “Dear Diary…” on any piece of paper, give me a chance to explain.

Let's examine five ways journaling can be an essential tool for a healthy mind.

What is journaling?

Maybe when you think of journaling, you picture a teenager writing with a pink, sparkly pen while sprawled out on their bed. You may also see a little book with a small lock and key. For young ones, keeping a diary is a great way to work out the problems and the onslaught of new emotions.

As a teen, writing in a journal is a safe place to work out anger against your parents, secret crushes, things that scare you that you don’t want to talk about, and all the confusion that comes with ever-changing hormones.

Yet that value doesn’t stop just because you grow up. The benefits of journaling only increase with time.

My history

I have kept a journal since November 1983.
If you’re a young person reading this, I know, that makes me ancient. Trust me, it doesn’t seem possible that I’ve carried on this tradition for nearly 40 years, but I have dozens of books to prove it.

My journals have been my only true and constant companion.

No matter what else has happened in my life, from a mental illness diagnosis, a rare chronic illness, or the start and end of serious relationships, my written friend has been the stability and anchor to keep me on track.

Keeping a journal has had such a positive impact on my life that I make sure I include journal prompts in all the posts in my Positivity Club.

Here are five ways that journaling can help you as well.

1. Brain drain

Your brain is a marvelous organ.

In it, you have your own private universe. It’s a place you carry with you throughout your entire life. You may even have conversations with the voices that manifest there.

However, it’s a place that sometimes gets too crowded. When that happens, the internal noise from life can overwhelm you. The mental weight of your thoughts can then spill over into the real world and cause stress and anxiety.

Journaling is a way to quiet that noise and ease your nervousness.

The Artist's Way

There’s an excellent book for writers, and anyone else wanting mental clarity, called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It recommends that everyone should write morning pages.

What are morning pages? I’m glad you asked.

As the book spells out, morning pages are three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing that you write at the start of every day. While you can start with “Dear Diary,” you definitely don’t have to. The point is to write and to fill up three pages with the thoughts in your head.

The words don’t matter.

You could write a grocery list, your top ten pet peeves, what you think that smell is coming from the kitchen, or anything else. Sometimes my first page is simply one word written repeatedly.

This kind of writing is like clearing a cache on an electronic device. By getting the words out, you release the useless information taking up unnecessary memory. Once those words are gone, you are free to concentrate on the important things.

Stream-of-consciousness writing isn’t about content but rather the act of writing.

Don’t worry about writing full sentences, grammar, punctuation, or even complete thoughts.

Write every word that enters your mind. If there is a tsunami of words, write the loudest ones first. There is a reason why those words are there. Write them down and see where they lead.

2. Some things you shouldn’t say

The second reason you should be journaling is that there are some things that you shouldn’t say out loud.

For example, if your boss is being an absolute jerk, you should probably keep your mouth shut. And if your wife's dress reminds you of a gunny sack, you don't want to tell her while walking out the door to a dinner party.

There are other dangerous words you may want to keep to yourself. In fits of anger, hurtful things may fill your mind that, if said, would hurt your partner, kids, parents, or the woman walking past you on the street.

Keeping a journal gives you a safe place to say those words.

Fill its pages with the tirade you wish you could launch against your boss. Say the things that a mother never should tell her kids. Write about how much you hated dinner last night or what you really think of your husband's man cave.

Getting these words out in a safe environment will keep them from festering and from exploding out at the worst possible time.

Save those around you from harm by telling your journal the things you know you shouldn’t say out loud.
A journal and a pen sitting on a tea table.Photo byCharuTyagi/Pixabay

3. Journaling can reveal trends

The gift I have from decades of journaling is the ability to see various trends in my life.

This is a crucial tool for managing my bipolar disorder, and was also helpful in the years-long process of getting diagnosed with a rare disease.

A few years ago, I received a Familial Mediterranean Fever diagnosis. Short story, it’s an auto-inflammatory, genetic condition that causes fevers, inflammation, and lots of pain.

It took years of visits and medical testing before a doctor identified the cause. Near the end, I was almost sure the fevers and persistent flu-like symptoms were in my head.

Finally, though, I found an internist who took the time to really look at my history and listen to what I was saying. In fact, he took my medical chart home with him and spent an entire weekend going over it and the information I had given him.

The notes I had in my journal showed distinct trends for fevers, the connected between certain foods and increased nausea, and proof of how some activities made me feel worse.

All of that information helped my internist figure out my medical mystery.

Keeping a journal can do the same for you.

Hopefully, you aren’t in the process of trying to diagnose an obscure health condition, but there are other areas of your life where seeing trends could be helpful. It could be your relationships, work performance, kids’ behavior, or many other things.

You never know what your journal might reveal.

4. Your own personal therapist

Everyone should be in talk-therapy at least once in their lifetime.

Getting to talk about the things in your head with a trusted guide can change your life. It changed mine.

Unfortunately, with today’s healthcare climate, many people don’t have access to this helpful option. My current health insurance doesn’t cover therapy, and my income is much too low for me to pay out-of-pocket.

As an alternative, you can pick up a notebook for about $1. A pack of cheap pens will cost the same, or you can steal a pen from the bank, though I’m not an advocate for stealing. For a free option, you can use a notes app on your phone or Google Docs.

While you won’t get the guidance that a good therapist can give you, taking the time to express what’s in your head can help you sort out your thoughts and emotions.

Even if you see a therapist, you won't cover everything during your sessions. Much of your progress with therapy depends on what you do in the hours you're living your life. Keeping a journal helps you do the work so you can improve.

In addition, time and age change the way you see events in your life. As your perspective changes, a journal can help you process any new feelings.

There are lots of topics I never fully covered while in therapy. With my journal, though, I process new concerns as they show up.

Writing down my thoughts has helped me process a lot of painful things, including childhood sexual abuse and the sudden death of the person I loved most.

There are many things journaling could help you work through as well.
A lightbulb with arms and legs plugging itself into an outlet.Photo byColiN00B/Pixabay

5. Release your creativity

The fifth way that journaling is beneficial is in releasing your creativity.

For scribes, this often refers to writer’s block.

I first purchased Julia Cameron’s book because I was struggling with a tricky creative block. No matter what I tried, I hit a stone wall that kept my creative mind frozen in place.

In her book, Cameron talks about how she has helped artists, actors, writers, and many others with her process. At first, I was skeptical, but then I decided to give the morning pages a try.

It took me a couple of days, but faithfully writing my morning pages released my inner block. Now, years later, I still try to write my morning pages, even if I don’t have time to finish them in the morning. When I do the work, there's never a problem with my other writing.

You will likewise find your creative juices flowing by keeping a journal.

You may not be a writer or artist, but creativity improves all of our lives. Try it and see what you can do with yours.

No one, including you, ever has to read it

It will be no surprise when I tell you that many of my closest friends keep journals.

Whether I have helped inspire them or not, I don’t know, but we all find our own comfort through writing our words down.

I have one friend who has a ritual she goes through every time she fills a notebook. She plans some time alone for herself, goes out to the backfield of her property, and burns its pages. She says the entire process is freeing and cathartic.

Personally, I find value in keeping my journals, especially for finding trends, as I mentioned above. However, you may worry about someone finding and reading your words, or be afraid of leaving those books behind after you're gone.

Does that mean you shouldn’t journal?

Absolutely not.

Remember, it’s your journal. You make the rules and can decide what's best for you. No one ever has to read the words you write, including you. You can even destroy every page as soon as you write it.

Another friend keeps her journal in Word documents. When she’s done writing for the day, she deletes everything.

A lot of the value in journaling comes from getting the words out, not necessarily in keeping them.

To wrap up, let’s review how journaling can help you.

  1. Help clear your mind
  2. Say the things you shouldn’t speak out loud
  3. Notice trends in your life
  4. Work out your problems
  5. Free your creativity

There are many other benefits from journaling that you will discover if you try it.

For the next thirty days, make it a practice to journal every day, and see where it takes you.

Until next time, keep fighting.

Comments / 0

Published by

Scott is a passionate advocate for mental health. He shares his own struggles of fighting bipolar disorder on his Speaking Bipolar blog while promoting positivity and understanding. Scott also publishes on Medium and Vocal.

Dunlap, TN

More from Scott Ninneman @ Speaking Bipolar

Comments / 0