Out of each habit I perform daily, I believe writing in a journal is the single most beneficial to my mental health. It is also the habit I look most forward to, and I’d recommend it to anyone trying to make distance between their thoughts and themselves.
Although at first, I did not write daily, when I first began, I noticed benefits within my first week. My head felt notably clearer; as I woke up and scrounged around rapidly for something to worry about, writing made it much harder for my brain to latch onto something.
If you think you’ll have trouble getting yourself to write every day, check out my other post on how to regain a sense of control over yourself and actions.
When I write, I do so in what I call an either structured or unstructured way.
The structured method of writing entails making it a regular activity. Generally, I pend 15-20 minutes writing about the events of the day before and any thoughts important or present enough to remember. I generally use one of two formats when I write every day.
The first is best for remedying repetitive thoughts. It’s simple: I call up a thought or worry I had, and I list them with letters, starting from A and going as far as I need. When I’m done listing worries, I respond to them rationally and in hindsight. I created this method, but it makes sense that it would work, since therapy also works so well. You are expressing yourself and being heard, although you’re doing all the work yourself.
Example of format for repetitive thoughts:
This format allows you to respond to your thoughts reflectively, which can improve the way you react to your thoughts as they arise in the present. No matter the thoughts you have, you will learn that you will be able to respond calmly and concisely the next day when you write about them.
The other format I often use is more geared toward general anxiety. This isn’t much of a format; I just go through the events of the day before and note any thoughts that bothered me enough to remember. This is pretty classic journaling, but with an emphasis on emotions.
Example of format for general anxiety:
Another reason writing is my favorite habit is because it can also provide acute relief. It can calm you down quickly in a moment of anxiety, if that’s what you need. When I’m particularly worried or focused on an existential or detrimental thought I can’t seem to shake, I tilt my page, switch to cursive to maximize my writing speed, and write for as long as I have to.
I get completely engaged in this activity when I do it. It is, in essence, a complete “brain dump.” I usually write between 8 and 10 pages for up to 2 hours. The worse my wrist feels by the end, the better my brain feels. I find myself doing this a few times a year, but don’t be afraid to do it as often or as sparsely as you need. I feel incredible after one of these sessions—they’re often followed by some of the best naps of my life.
The time this takes doesn’t really matter, because your well-being is worth any mount of time.
At the end of my daily entries I try to list a few things I’m grateful for. I try to write between 3 and 6 things. Sometimes it’s difficult, and not all of them are genuine, but science has proven that expressing gratitude prompts lasting changes in happiness.
I like this video and its accompanying music:
It will often be hard to know what you should write. But any amount is better than leaving those thoughts to fester in your brain.
Make it Your Own
This is optional, and can sometimes take a bit of an investment, but there are plenty of fun ways to get yourself to look forward to writing. Get a nice journal, use stickers, pictures, and drawings. Do whatever you can to take the process of sitting down and writing for 20 minutes fun. Personally, I enjoy the simplicity of black ink, a fountain pen, and a journal I enjoy. But do whatever makes you most comfortable.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or need help with accountability, either comment or message me directly from the contact page on this blog. Good luck and remember that any investment in yourself and your mental clarity is worth the time it takes.