Journaling for better mental health

Journaling is what rescued me when my body’s alarm went off after two years of non-stop, mindless socialising. The effects of endless binging and late nights had been showing, but I was refusing to pay attention. So, one Friday evening, as I sat down for a cup of tea, the mere thought of going out one more time had me feeling nauseous. My feet refused to move as I just sat there listlessly.

That evening, in spite of feeling the way I did, I still went out. It’s another matter that the make-up on my face felt heavy, the chatter sounded like noise, and the aroma of the food turned into a repulsive stench as the evening dragged on. It was the last time I socialised that month before proceeding to politely, and almost apologetically, get out of every commitment.

Before long the weekends and weekdays began to drag on – their emptiness filled with the groans of my body and my thoughts telling me things I didn’t want to hear. At that point, the only thing keeping me going was my love for tennis. I knew, I would have to find a way through soon.

I had heard a lot about writing a journal, but as easy as it seemed, I didn’t know what I was going to journal about. A lot of people write about their goals, positive thoughts, or even affirmations. So, I decided to start with something easy like, “Dear Diary, today I made a lovely dinner for my family…”

Surprisingly though, when I put my pen to paper, that is not what it read. Instead, the thoughts that intuitively came to me wrote themselves. They showed me how I felt about things, what beliefs I had held over the years and what coping mechanisms I had adopted.

According to Sandra Marinella, “Journal writing gives us insights into who we are, who we were and who we can become.” So, although we know what needs dealing with, as I said before, we don’t listen.

I realised that as the pages of my journal started filling up, the shouting, whining, and complaining gave way to monologues. This had an unexpected effect – I started sleeping earlier and better than before. In turn, my mornings started earlier, and with that, my circadian rhythm tiptoed silently into my life. Even the food tasted better, as the body wanted to move more and do more things.

I turned to meditation, next. It had always been effortless for me. I could meditate for long stretches of time and it left me with a feeling of deep contentment and happiness from within. However, this time around, I couldn’t even sit still for more than five minutes at a time! It took me aback. And once again, I got a breakthrough with journaling.

Journaling helped me to break my barriers and challenge the beliefs I made about myself over the years. While beliefs are not one’s reality, they are a metaphorical crutch that we borrow or produce to make sense of life.

The interesting thing about them is that no matter when beliefs get formed in life – the roots go deep down and all the way into one’s childhood. While going into that space can be very scary, one must persist – like I am trying to. And though I have barely scratched the surface, it already feels like I have accomplished so much by journaling.

Journaling Tips

  1. Don’t overthink it. Journaling isn’t about doing anything “well” or the “right way”. There is no right or wrong way, you just have to write about anything that comes to your mind.
  2. Buy yourself a nice notebook to write in. Statistics show that even small things like a nice journal and pen can motivate people to spend more time journaling.
  3. Don’t worry about a specific time, though that does help sustain the habit. Ideally, choose a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  4. If you want to make your journaling experience more intimate, light a candle. It builds atmosphere.
  5. When you’re short of ideas or your mind goes blank, you can turn to hundreds of journaling prompts available for free use online.
  6. One of the most used prompts (also one that has the potential to create the most change) is a daily gratitude list. List 10 things you are grateful for every day (yes, that can include your hamster).
  7. Affirmations are great to write down every day. So are inspiring quotes.
  8. Have fun with it.  Write down your desires, dreams, needs…anything you want. Just remember to journal without self-judgement.

Ruuchi Bhave
Ruuchi Bhave

Ruuchi has called Hong Kong her home for the past 16 years. She is currently getting her certifications as a Psychotherapist. Her belief is that mental health is a topic that needs to be talked about more and should get more attention.

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