Journaling for Emotional Health

When you hear the word "journal," what do you think of?

A weathered leather book with deep philosophical thoughts?  A color-coded planner filled with business plans and ideas?  A fuzzy pink diary with a lock that contains all your childhood dreams?

The truth is, a journal is none of these things.  Or it could be all of these things!  A journal, simply put, is a place to dump your brain.

Why do you need to dump your brain you ask?

Well, think about this.  Experts estimate they we all have about 50,000 - 70,000 thoughts per day.  That's about 25-50 thoughts per minute.  That's a lot of thoughts!  So if you've ever wondered why you feel so worn out at the end of the day, wonder no more.

Since most of us are also busy doing things all day - going to work, taking care of children and pets, volunteering, commuting, taking care of chores, running errands, etc., our brains hardly get a chance to acknowledge many of these thoughts, much less process them.

Because of this, they can start to get "backed up"inside you... causing all sorts of emotions and even physical symptoms.

For example, have you ever caught yourself feeling uneasy or sad or in the middle of dread but weren't sure why?  And had to stop and think "wait, what was I just thinking about?" to get to the answer?  

That's how automatic our brains can be and that's how powerful the connection is between our thoughts, our emotions and our physical health.

Which is why it's important to make time each day to intentionally get them OUT of your head.  And the easiest way to do that is to journal.

Journaling allows you to literally open up your mind and "dump" all of those thoughts that have been swirling around so you can feel more relaxed and clear.

Although there are no rules to journaling - there are several different ways you can approach it if you're new to the practice:

1.  Just write.

Easy enough, huh?  The most straightforward and easiest way to journal is to just write.  No topics, no boundaries, no guidelines.  Just pure, unadulterated stream-of-consciousness.  Just write about whatever comes to mind, as it comes to mind, and don't worry about grammar or punctuation.  This is a great way to release a lot of those pent-up thoughts and you might just be surprised at some of what you write about!

2.  Pick a topic.

If you are the type of person that likes some direction, you can pick a topic and write just about it.  For example, maybe you want to write about what's going on at your workplace one day and then write about your spouse another day.  This can be extremely helpful if you have a particular issue that has been hanging on your mind for a while.  It can also help you to realize your true feelings about that issue, brainstorm solutions or even gather your courage to do something about it.  

3.  Use a prompt.

This is similar to picking a topic, but in this case, you can use a specific prompt.  For example, writing a letter to your past self, writing a letter to your future self, making lists (accomplishments you're proud of, things you want to do, etc.), journaling about a song lyric or a photograph, answering a "what if" question or journaling about a dream that you had.  Write your prompt at the top of your page and then just let the thoughts flow from there.

4.  Use visuals.

If you have a difficult time putting your thoughts into words and are more of a visual person, that's okay too!  Use your journal to sketch drawings or cut out photos from magazines and newspapers and create collages.  Sometimes, the emotions you are holding inside need to come out in a different way and you might be surprised at how insightful your collages may become.  Remember, the point here is to help you to process your thoughts and emotions, so don't hold back!  This is just for you!

5.  Do it first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

This is more of a guideline than a method, but incorporating journaling into your morning or evening routine is a great way not only to ensure that you'll actually do it, but also help you to either ease into your day or unwind at the end of it.  Since most people are on the go all day long, our bodies often attempt to process everything when our heads hit the pillow (hello insomnia!), so it's a great idea to keep a journal and a pen right next to your bed, so you can "unload" your brain either as you are trying to fall asleep or when you first wake up.  Either way, it clears your mind to be able to either face the day or catch some quality Z's.

One more note - although bullet journals are perfectly fine and effective in their own way (so bullet journal enthusiasts, stay calm), that is not what I'm talking about here.  The entire point of a bullet journal is to be fast and efficient and I am talking about journaling as a way to relax, unwind and take your time.  Too much of our world (and your day) is spent rushing at 100 mph.  Your self care should NOT be rushed too.

If you can't do it everyday, that's fine.  Just do it when you can.  And if you only have 10 minutes, that's fine too.  But don't rush yourself through the process.  Just let your brain relax and unload and believe me, you'll know when it's done!  ;)

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Until next time, keep your worries tiny and your dreams BIG!