If you've ever kept a journal before, then you may be well aware of how journaling often provides you an almost immediate sense of relief - but why is this?
What starts as taking a few moments to document your day or experiences turns into an opportunity for reflection and introspection, deeply shifting our awareness. Merely transferring your thoughts from your mind onto a sheet of paper feels like you're releasing yourself from the hold they've had on you - that's why journaling is so often used as an outlet for intense emotions. It can be a great aid in anxiety treatment, depression treatment, and in working through grief. But there are more ways journaling can benefit your mental health and more to the process than you may be aware of.
This type of journaling is considered to be expressive writing. Unlike the recent fad of bullet journaling, expressive journaling can offer relief for anxiety, depression, stress, grief, and even trauma symptoms. Research shows that journaling at least a few times each week can not only decrease the intensity of mental health symptoms, like intrusive thoughts, but also an increase in overall well-being, gratitude, hopefulness, and emotional resilience.
A mindful journal is a way to cultivate mindfulness - a state of awareness that requires you to pay attention to the present moment to intentionally notice your own thoughts and reactions. Mindfulness can be practiced in several ways, from mindful eating to breathing, or even in your interactions with others. However, meditation is the most popular way to practice. Meditation can be hard at first, but over time you realized that calling awareness to the mind chatter actually helps you feel calmer and less overwhelmed.
A mindful journal is like a form of meditation. It is an excellent tool for improving your mental health because it acts as a medium for exploring your thoughts, feelings, and experiences freely and without judgement. This is especially helpful for coping with anxiety symptoms such as intrusive thoughts. When you apply mindfulness to journaling, you are becoming aware of inner states, releasing them onto your paper, and identifying the areas of your life and mental landscape that could use a little more care and awareness.
The key behind successful mindful journaling and a positive mental health state is self-compassion. Self-compassion means giving yourself compassion in such instances where you are suffering or feeling inadequate. Practicing mindful self-compassion has been identified through research as the key to reducing experiential suffering and as a strong predictor of psychological wellbeing. Mindful journaling is not only what enables us to process our thoughts, but to practice self-compassion as we seek to understand ourselves by accepting our fears or worries without self-criticism and judgment.
In the second part of this blog, we will get into the specifics. We will dive into practical ways to keep a mindfulness journal, journaling prompts, journaling though mixed media and art rather than words, and more, so be sure to sign up for blog updates. For now, whether you decide to journal by mindfully recording your daily experiences, taking note of what you are grateful for, or simply checking in on yourself and recording how you feel that day, remember to express yourself freely and often and to practice self-compassion.
Priscila Norris, MS, LCSW, RYT
Integrative therapist, Registered Yoga Teacher