Benefits of journaling for mental health

Perhaps whenever you have experienced a difficult time or have struggled with your mental health someone has suggested that you should try to journal. This is often the advice given to those struggling with mental health, grief, or even organisational issues. And the truth is, journaling is very beneficial for some mental health problems.

Different types of journaling may be more helpful than others, depending on what your needs and goals are. The two main types of journaling regularly used for mental health are gratitude journaling and expressive writing.

Gratitude journaling is often suggested to help you refocus on the positives and is helpful for those dealing with depression, and for those dealing with low self-esteem or self-image. Gratitude journaling can take different forms, like bullet journaling or diary entries. The focus however is on the people, things, and events in life that the writer is grateful for and noticing positives in day to day life.

The second is called expressive writing. This type of journaling encompasses several different techniques and is something that can be done alone or as part of a treatment plan/session with a mental health provider. This type of journaling can help with proces-sing traumatic memories, help to express emotions that a person may not understand or be able to verbalise, and is used primarily to help with understanding a person's emotions and feelings. This type of journaling can have different formats, depending on the individual, but it consists of writing out thoughts and emotions about past events, daily life, people, objects, or ideas in order to better understand how the person feels regarding the topic. It is often used when processing different types of traumas and a therapist might utilise this type of journaling to help individuals struggling with processing childhood trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and grief. 

There are many reasons that journaling is thought to be so beneficial. Some reasons include:

  • emotional catharsis, an emotional release or venting of negative feelings
  • increased cognitive processing, or time spent processing events, feelings, emotions that might not otherwise be acknowledged or processed
  • repeated exposure, or exposure therapy to thoughts, feelings, events that are traumatic in order to reduce harmful thoughts over time
There have been many studies done over the years that have consistently shown that these two types of journaling have benefits both for a person’s mental health as well as their physical health.

People dealing with anxiety and/or depression may benefit the most from regular journaling. Those dealing with anxiety are thought to be helped because journaling helps with expressing, understanding, and accepting negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Individuals dealing with depression also see benefits from using both gratitude journaling and expressive writing. It has been shown to have a greater impact if used in conjunction with medical interventions (talk therapy and medication). The greatest improvement in depression symptoms was seen after individuals had been journaling regularly for 30 days.

Journaling has also been shown to be beneficial to those dealing with PTSD, chronic pain, and for general stress management.

The main reasons for journaling for mental health are to manage anxiety, cope with depression, and reduce overall stress levels. Those who self-report journaling on a regular basis also generally have lower overall blood pressures, improved lung and liver function, fewer depressive symptoms, overall better moods, and less stress related visits to the doctors. 

Some tips for getting started with journaling include:

  • make it a habit, write every day or on a regular schedule
  • make it easy to journal, have a pen and journal or a notes app on your phone that is easily accessible
  • make it a safe place, use your journal in whatever way feels right for you. Allow yourself to freely express yourself
  • don’t limit yourself, you can write, doodle, or draw
Journaling is a good way to start working on your mental health. However, if you begin feeling that you need professional assistance and help, it is important to reach out to your health care provider.

Author: Kellen Olivia Kiisler

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