How to start journaling for self-care, mental health and wellness
I think there are few better ways to develop ideas or understand what’s going on internally than writing it down on paper. I’ve said multiple times how much I love what technology can do, but journaling is the best ‘mental download’ out there. A place to Ctrl+Alt+Delete through thoughts, optimise and get analytics on emotions, upload and upgrade mindsets. I don’t think they have to be too technical or formulaic.
In my own experience, I think I remember having my first journal during primary school. It was the place I wrote little poems, sketched pictures and wrote about what I observed. Whilst I’d love to say my more recent journals are far more evolved, in actuality, they’re not.
With journals, it’s not the methods that change. It’s you.
It’s a truly great thing if you have kept a journal or log of thoughts to randomly come across old writing. To see who you were at that point in your life and how you may have developed since.
Keeping a journal is different from a diary that describes a day in detail. It is a free form of writing that speaks back to you and shows you what’s most important and is a non-judgemental space for creative discovery.
When done right journaling can help inspire more creativity, self-regulate emotions and be a calming tool for your mind. It can help push past the knee-jerk reactions to the demands of everyday life and to the lessons that lie at the core of interacting with others and ourselves.
If you’re still not convinced, here are some words from others that echo a love for the sacred scripts of journals:
"In the journal, I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it."
—Susan Sontag (American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist.)
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
—William Wordsworth (English Romantic poet)
"It’s an odd idea for someone like me to keep a diary; not only because I have never done so before, but because it seems to me that neither I — nor for that matter anyone else — will be interested in the unbosomings of a 13-year-old schoolgirl. Still, what does that matter? I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart."
—Anne Frank (German-Dutch diarist of Jewish heritage)
"If you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair."
—Madeleine L'Engle (American writer. Author of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’)
How to start?
Last year I read ‘ The artist's way’ by Julia Cameron. It’s a book written to help people with ‘artistic creative recovery’, which teaches techniques and exercises to assist people in harnessing their creative talents and skills. I loved it and have shared it with others too.
The first step of the book encourages people to do ‘morning pages’ which is three pages of stream of consciousness writing. It could be about anything. Whining about what may come that day, reflections on the day before, mundane tasks or utter inspiration. Whatever it is, the goal is to let your words run uninterrupted so that those first thoughts of the day are cleared and unblocked so that creativity can flow and you get to show up as the best version of yourself for the day having offloaded all those thoughts that come at you demanding your attention at the start of each morning.
A chance to ‘check-in’ with how you feel, what is going well and what you are grateful for and a space to envision what you would like life to be like. I think what’s most important here is to be as honest and as authentic as possible. Having the honesty to write down what you want your life to look like, what wellness truly means to you or how you
Example prompts for evening reviews:
I was most energized today when...
I was most disappointed when....
How do I add value to the world around me?
What are the words I need to hear? Write them down.
Write about a time when work felt real to you, necessary and satisfying. Paid or unpaid, professional or domestic, physical or mental.
The last thing I saw that inspired me was...
I feel happiest in my skin when...
I have created three free printables for download. They are journal prompt templates to kickstart your writing, specifically for gratitude, creativity and better mental health/self-care.
Download your free journal prompt guide below:
Terms and conditions of journaling
Don’t have grand plans of meticulously sticking to journaling every day. If it works for you that way great, but the key thing is, to be honest, and authentic with it to get the most out of it.
It can reveal aspects of yourself in self-reflection that may be uncomfortable. This is the beauty of it though, and it can be humbling. Writing has become a tool for me to see a story from multiple viewpoints and to cultivate greater empathy to see things through another ‘character’s’ eyes. I think my quiet time with journaling, venting on a page or creating something beautiful has to lead me to get humble and forgive, apologise, try something new, walk away and take risks.
Expect benefits all-round, from proven improved cognitive processing and memory, immune functioning and better emotional regulation.