What is creative journaling for mental health? Is it writing in a colorful diary with your favorite pen, doodling on your calendar, or recording your feelings and insights in a Google document?
Journaling is a written report of your thoughts and feelings. There are many reasons why people journal. Some journal for self-expression, to gain insight, or perhaps even to solve a problem.
However, many people journal for healing and renewal—in other words, to support their mental health.
According to Zencare, therapeutic journaling is a chance to dive into emotions and thoughts with the goal of building understanding and awareness of self. Creative journaling is an effective practice that helps one relieve stress, manage anxiety, as well as cope with mental health issues.
In this article, I will share the benefits of journaling for mental health and how to get started, as well as provide journaling prompts to support mental health.
Table of Contents
- Benefits of Creative Journaling for Mental Health
- How to Get Started in Creative Journaling
- How to Begin a Creative Journaling Practice
- Ready to Get Started?
- Final Thoughts
Benefits of Creative Journaling for Mental Health
Here are the five benefits of creative journaling for mental health.
1. It Helps You Cope With Stress
Journaling is often a way to cope with daily stressors and improve mental health.
According to Dr. Francisco Cruz, lead psychiatrist at Ketamine Health Centers in Florida,
“The amygdala, an almond-shaped collection of neurons located on each side of the lobe, registers emotional information and helps us identify our surroundings to determine whether it is dangerous or not. Once journaling becomes a daily habit, the amygdala begins to register journaling as a safe zone for personal growth, healing and reflection.”
Stress is when your mind and body get out of balance. Your adrenal glands secrete adrenaline and cortisol—stress hormones that suppress your immune system, raise your heart rate and blood pressure, tighten your muscles, and dilate your pupils.
Our lives are filled with many stressors. Therefore, it is not at all uncommon for one to experience chronic stress that lasts more than six weeks. One may be stressed by finances, relationships, health concerns, career struggles, family issues, and many, many more worries.
However, it is completely possible to manage stress with journaling.
Many times, stressors may cause one to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, angry, isolated, fearful, or a mixture of many emotions. But writing about one’s emotional state allows one to process and express their thoughts and feelings. It may also provide clarity and help recognize possible solutions.
2. It Strengthens the Immune System
We have all heard the old saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
In a 2018 Cambridge study, participants were asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding the stressors in their lives. Four months later, those who wrote about their experiences for 15 minutes a day reported fewer visits to the doctor and fewer sick days.
Not only is journaling linked to long-term decreases in health problems, but it also helps you heal faster.
3. It Provides a Place to Express Gratitude
According to Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine, authors of The Power of Thanks: How Social Recognition Empowers Employees and Creates a Best Place to Work,
“Gratitude magnifies the spirit and promotes well-being. In good times and bad, authentic appreciation creates perspective, literally stepping back from the distractions of the moment and affirming something more lasting than passing circumstances.”
It is so easy to become addicted to the hustle and bustle of life and simply overlook all we have to be grateful for.
Research reveals that grateful people achieve more, are less likely to burn out, are more resilient, and experience overall improved well-being. Gratitude has also been shown to activate areas of the brain linked to positive emotions.
Thus, journaling provides a space for one to record all they have to be grateful for.
4. It Helps You Achieve Your Goals
One of the most powerful ways to achieve goals is to write them down. Many top athletes and corporate executives use the technique of visualization to achieve their goals. But when one writes down their goals, the written format helps them better clarify and visualize the end results or achievement of the goal.
In 2020, Dr. Gail Matthews from the Dominican University of California found that people who write down their goals have a higher chance of accomplishing them when compared to those who do not write down their goals.
The fact is that one needs more than a to-do list to achieve their goals. Journaling helps one connect with their goals purposefully to create productive prioritization of actions instead of creating an overwhelming list that invokes analysis paralysis and stunts the attainment of goals.
5. It Helps Support Mental Health
Expressive writing through journaling is a great way to process traumatic events. People living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) usually benefit from processing the traumatic event.
Creative journaling is an effective way to process these emotions. A 2015 research study found that consistent journaling may be an effective way to manage the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Creative journaling seems to be an effective way also to manage depression.
In a 2013 study with people living with major depressive disorder (MDD), participants were asked to write about an emotional event or non-emotional daily events. They performed this writing repeatedly over several days. It was noted that emotional writing greatly decreased symptoms of depression, while the more routine writing didn’t show a significant impact.
How to Get Started in Creative Journaling
Now that we have explored a few of the many benefits of creative journaling and the profound impact it can have on our mental health, let’s dive into a few tips on how to get started.
1. Gift Yourself a Priceless Gift
Do you recall being a child and opening presents on a special occasion? You were being gifted, and that special gift truly made you beam with joy.
Think of setting aside time for creative journaling as a special gift to yourself. Block time in your calendar, and gift yourself the joy of creative journaling. Release the need for multitasking, and plan a time when can be fully present for yourself.
2. Start Small
Consistent journaling will create journaling habits. However, it takes time and space. If you tell yourself you need to write 400 words a day, this puts extra pressure on you.
However, set the intention to use your journal consistently to explore your thoughts and feelings in written form.
Some days, doodling about an event may feel right, other days, writing in narrative form may feel right. However, the intention is to start small and create consistent habits.
3. Don’t Turn It Into a To-Do List
Journaling is a thoughtful activity. The urge to make notes about work and create to-do’s and other unrelated tasks may arise.
Be compassionate with yourself, and focus on expressing yourself.
4. Keep It Spicy
The idea is to create a journaling habit that supports your mental health. However, try to keep it spicy.
Try journaling in different locations and times—on the terrace, in a coffee shop, in the morning, at midday, etc. Hopefully, this will prevent boredom from arising and support your continuity.
5. Remember, There Is No Right Way
It’s important to remember that there is only one way to journal—your way.
It’s not about having a fancy pen or having the perfect time blocked in your calendar. This practice is not about all of the Pinterest or Instagram or even Etsy notebooks. Rather, this practice is about you recording your thoughts and feelings.
How to Begin a Creative Journaling Practice
Here are some tips to get you started in writing your creative journal.
1. Choose Your Method
Decide how you want to record your thoughts and feelings. Your favorite pen and a journal with a pretty cover? A ballpoint and a pad of legal pad? A laptop or iPad?
Pick the method that is the most inviting to you.
2. Find the Right Spot
Select one or more spots where you can sit comfortably and get some privacy without too much noise or interruptions. Think about your favorite coffee shop, a park bench at your local park, your home in the early morning hours, etc.
3. Pick a Time That Consistently Works (Or Kind of Consistently)
Figure out when you’re most likely to journal. Early morning before work or school? Before bed? Mid-afternoon, during a natural break between activities?
Try to write at that time every day or most days, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Experts say 20 minutes a day is ideal.
Again, start small, and be gentle with yourself.
4. Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation—Who Cares?
Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation! Allow your thoughts to flow freely onto the page or screen without judging how you’re expressing them.
Your journal is a judgment-free zone. The spelling, grammar, and punctuation being correct are not important. Freely expressing your feelings and thoughts is the intention.
Ready to Get Started?
Here are a few journal prompts to help you on your journey of creative journaling:
- Write about what advice you’d give to your younger self.
- Write about ten things you wish people knew about you.
- Write about one thing you did this year that you’re super proud of.
- Write a love letter to your body.
- Describe the best compliment you have ever gotten.
- Write a message to yourself after an awful day.
- What do you fear the most? Why? Is your fear rational?
- Write down five things that make you incredibly happy and describe why they make you feel this way.
- Write a letter to the future you.
Journaling has been known to provide several benefits to our mental and psychological well-being. The therapeutic practice of creative journaling for mental health can help you survive your hardships in life and have a better perspective about tomorrow.
If you’re unsure how to get started, just follow the tips that I’ve laid out in this article, and you’ll eventually discover more things along your journey.
Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com
|||^||Zencare: Therapeutic Journaling: An Introduction & Guide to Writing for Your Mental Health|
|||^||Forbes: Five Reasons To Keep A Journal In 2018|
|||^||Cambridge Core: Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing|
|||^||Greater Good Magazine: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain|
|||^||Inc.: This Is the Way You Need to Write Down Your Goals for Faster Success|
|||^||PubMed Central: Efficacy of Narrative Writing as an Intervention for PTSD: Does the Evidence Support Its Use?|
|||^||PubMed Central: An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder|
|||^||The New York Times: What’s All This About Journaling?|