Attaining mental health is not a simple task. Just as we live in a world full of germs and parasites that can infest and harm our bodies, we also live in a psychological world of relationships with other people which are often full of psychological germs and parasites that can damage our mental health. Consider the public school environment: it is hard to imagine a single day without being exposed to bullying, put-downs, oppression, humiliations, peer-pressures, misinformation or other psychologically harmful elements. Often work and family environments are no better. When we consider protecting our bodies from infectious disease it is often a good idea to sterilise or clean our living environment to keep ourselves safe. However, as important as this is, without an immune system it is only a matter of time before one succumbs to infection and dies. So avoiding harmful psychological environments is not enough, one needs to develop a psychological immune system.
There are many tools and approaches available for improving one’s mental health, some of them depend on other people, a friend, a person who accepts us for who we are and is prepared to listen to whatever we have to say and share without interfering or trying to put us down. However, it is sadly the case today that many of us do not have a true friend who can provide for us this safe listening environment to hear our inner turmoil, confusion and express our most private thoughts and feelings to. Instead we suffer in isolation with emotions we are unable to communicate, express, process or understand. One good strategy to avoid depending on other people when this situation arises is to keep a journal.
Purpose of a Journal
The purpose of keeping a journal is to express in writing your thoughts and feelings. It should not be a laundry list of your day to day activities: that sort of information belongs in a diary or calendar. Instead, to extend the laundry metaphor, think of a journal as a process of ironing out your thoughts and feelings. By putting your thoughts and feelings down in writing it helps to clarify them and bring sharper focus to what is actually troubling you. By doing this one starts removing a lot of irrational ideas that often get stuck in people’s minds like grot on a kitchen bench. Thus the act of journal writing works as a mind cleanser.
How to Write a Good Journal
Don’t judge yourself. When writing about your private thoughts and feelings, it can be quite scary at first. All of us have thoughts were ashamed of: sexual fantasies, forbidden desires, control drama fantasies, fears, murder fantasies, jealousies, rivalries, lustful desires etc… these things come with being human. It might be very confronting at first to acknowledge the existence of such thoughts and that they are coming from yourself, but remember, this is an exercise in getting to know oneself better, not putting oneself down. One of the first things journal writing teaches one is how to be accepting of ourselves. Acceptance does not mean that we like everything about ourselves. For example, when I get upset with someone I often find myself thinking up hurtful things I could say to them, I do not like the fact that I do this, but I accept that is part of who I am and do not try to deny it. Also remember, thinking about doing something is harmless, only doing harmful things is actually harmful.
Stick to it. Journal writing is a skill, like listening to a friend is. It requires practice and experience doing it to do a good job. At first one is probably going to struggle with finding the right words, or looking at things from an honest perspective. But if you set a time to write each day, even if it is just a few lines, you will improve. What tends to happen is after a few months one will look back at what one wrote in the early days and actually feel embarrassed about how shallow those earlier entries were. This is a good sign because that embarrassment tells you just how much better your journaling skills have improved.
Keep it private. I have kept a personal journal and I have kept an online journal. My experience is that online journals are typically dishonest and shallow because they are written to impress other people, but a true journal should be written only to yourself. Sharing your journal with other people is like saying, “I am not worth my time and effort to listen to exclusively,” thus writing a journal just to yourself is an act of self-love because it says, “I am worth taking the time to listen to.”
Write about things you do not want other people to know about you. The reason I stress this is because if you want other people to know it, then you will tell them which means you do not have a problem with expressing it. Instead, write about things you have a genuine problem expressing to other people which means things you feel unsure or uncomfortable about. These uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are usually the ones causing us psychological injury. By writing about them you increase your awareness of your problems and increase your ability to deal with these problems.
Ask questions. This is an advanced skill in journal writing, when you start to ask yourself pointed questions about why you think and feel a certain way. This is a great way to discover deep and personal truths about yourself. However, I would recommend first getting accustomed to not judging yourself. Once you are used to accepting yourself, asking questions is fun and interesting, but before you have accepted yourself it can be quite painful and challenging.
Express feelings. The expression of a feeling is a difficult task. Some people can express their feelings quite clearly and openly. Other people struggle to even recognise that they have emotions. Most people appear to be somewhere in the middle, they know they have a feeling, but they just can not quite articulate it or make sense of it. Writing about that feeling helps to train communication skills in expressing emotions in other situations in life. Having good communication skills helps in every relationship one has whether personal or professional.
Benefits of Writing a Journal
To conclude, the benefits of writing a journal are increases in self-reliance, self-acceptance and self-awareness. No longer feeling helpless because one has thoughts and feelings one cannot express at work, with friends, family members, or even therapists, gives a person empowerment to deal with their own emotional problems. Self-acceptance helps to clear one’s thinking and perception so that decisions are more informed and beneficial to one’s interests, as does self-awareness. Having a journal will not solve all of one’s emotional health issues, but it is a powerful tool in gaining and maintaining good mental health.
Post last updated: 6/8/2013
- Blogging is good for your health: the therapeutic effects of journal-writing. (theotprocess.wordpress.com)
- Journal Your Way to Stress Relief (everydayhealth.com)
- How to Write a Journal: Follow These 4 Steps (udemy.com)
- The Benefits of Journal Writing (clrcoaching.com)
- How Keeping Journal Can Lower Your Stress Level (drclouthier.com)
- How Journaling Can Reduce Stress (stress.answers.com)
- 365 Journal Writing Ideas (spiritualboosters.com)
- Writing Thank-You Letters Shown To Improve Mood, Decrease Depressive Symptoms (morehappy.me)