Self Care Kit: Journaling
These are difficult and unprecedented times for everyone. The annual report for 2020 on American mental health created by Mental Health America found that: “The number of people screening with moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety has continued to increase throughout 2020 and remains higher than rates prior to COVID-19.” Unfortunately, this trend is likely to continue. To cope with the challenges of the pandemic and the stresses of everyday life, self-care is paramount. This is why we are introducing a “Self-care Kit”: a series of articles where each one discusses the benefits and practice of a different self-care strategy that could positively affect your well-being and help protect your mental health.
For the first installment of the series, we will talk about why journaling can be an extremely beneficial practice for self-care and offer tips on how to begin. Journaling refers to the practice of creating a written record of our thoughts, feelings, events that happened, etc. It is usually a regular exercise (ideally a daily one) where you have to mentally review and examine what happened during the day, how you felt and behaved, and document it in your own words. Studies have shown that when people have undergone events of great stress or even trauma, journaling while purposefully focusing on emotions and cognitions (i.e. mentally assimilating or acquiring knowledge from reviewing the experience) helps people process traumatic events as well as reduce stress.
“Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.”
Journaling can act as a processing and self-monitoring tool, enhancing our insight or self-awareness about our mental states across a period of time. This is incredibly helpful to people who suffer from depressive symptoms since it can help shift a negative mindset to a more positive one. Not only has journaling proven to help with mood regulation, but it has been proven to also help improve memory.
Baikie and Wilhelm (2005) offer some tips to get the most out of your journaling practice:
- Write in a private and personalized space that is free from distractions;
- Write at least three or four times, and aim for writing consecutively (i.e., at least once each day);
- Give yourself some time to reflect and balance yourself after writing;
- If you’re writing to overcome trauma, don’t feel obligated to write about a specific traumatic event—journal about what feels right in the moment;
- Structure the writing however it feels right to you;
- Keep your journal private; it’s for your eyes only—not your spouse, not your family, not your friends, not even your therapist (although you can discuss your experience with your therapist, of course!). Journaling has also been shown to considerably help with anxiety by becoming a tool to: calm your mind, exploring your experiences with anxiety, letting go of pent-up anger or anxious feelings, enhancing your self-awareness, and tracking your day-to-day fluctuations in anxiety. If you want to learn more about how to begin your journaling practice visit the Center for Journaling’s short course on journaling and begin to put in the work required to reap the many benefits of this self-care practice.