Journaling for Mental Health
17th October 2023
Writing is a creative form that can be useful as a form of formal or informal therapy. For some, writing is essential; a non-negotiable form of therapy that has to happen daily as an emotional outlet and/or creative expression. For others, keeping notes in the form of a personal journal can be a useful adjunctive therapy and exercise which can contribute to emotional release and self-insight.
A therapist might encourage journaling as a type of "homework" because various forms of writing such as journaling can be used as a form of self-help. Of course journaling is not limited to anyone dealing with mental health issues or disorders. It is a positive way to keep your mind uncluttered, wherein you remember details of the day that need to be cognitively organized or reorganized. It is a form of mental filing whereby old or irrelevant files can be discarded and new files can be sorted and collated with what is current.
Journaling can be an effective form of self-expression, a valuable coping tool, a way to cope with—or an aid towards overcoming—depression, and a means by which mania can be kept in check or prevented. It is also a useful tool towards gaining greater self-insight.
Some have created best-selling books by publishing their journals, and perhaps the most famous of which is the Diary of Ann Frank. And even for this diminutive victim and hero of the Holocaust, no doubt journaling was a valuable coping mechanism that contributed towards emotional well-being.
Journaling is "essential" in managing bipolar disorder. Bipolar Insights
The non-profit community education organization, Bipolar Insights, recommends journaling, calling it "an essential" in the role of managing bipolar disorder. "Journaling is an essential role [in] managing bipolar disorder. Bipolar Insights encourages you to use a level system – creating your own personal symptoms, words, level descriptions – to be able to track your mood and become self-aware." (Bipolar Insights, October 8, 2012).
The University of Rochester Medical Center states concerning journaling for mental health that, "Keeping a journal helps you establish order when your world feels like it's in chaos. It helps you get to know yourself by revealing your innermost fears, thoughts, and feelings. Look at your writing time as personal relaxation time, a time when you de-stress and wind down. Write in a place that's relaxing and soothing—maybe with a lit candle and a cup of tea. Look forward to your journaling time, and know that you're doing something good for your mind and body."
Journaling can be therapeutic because it allows us to express our thoughts on both a conscious and an unconscious level. Sigmund Freud utilized "free association" to refer to his patients' monologues regarding their lives as these patients lay on a couch in his office. His patients were allowed to speak of their dreams and their experiences, and free association helped his patients express anything and everything that came to their minds and their consciousness.
By means of free association as a psychotherapeutic technique, Freud was able to elicit from his patients meaningful material that could be interpreted on deeper levels, partly because it was spontaneously expressed and partly because he viewed it as symbolic.
There is no doubt that Freud's psychoanalysis was of benefit to some, and though psychoanalysis as Freud practiced it is not universally practiced or accepted, some of the aspects of psychoanalysis certainly have a measure of validity. In some respects, as with free association, journaling can be important as a therapeutic tool because it may reflect freely expressed material, and embedded with feelings and unique symbolic imagery that is meaningful to us as individuals.
Linea Johnson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teen, and she writes the following in her memoir, "Feeling like I had no one to talk to or who could understand what I was going through, I wrote. I wrote in journals every day, trying to come to terms with my illness, trying to understand what was happening to me, and trying to find a way to release all of my thoughts."
"Writing remains a stabilizing support in my life."
Due to her choice to write her feelings and thoughts, she eventually co-authored a book entitled Perfect Chaos. She stated subsequent to this, "Finally, by voicing my story, I realized that I was not alone and that mental health conditions are universal. Being open about my journey showed me that I could help others who also felt alone with their illness. It was not only a relief, but it was also empowering. Writing remains a stabilizing support in my life." (Meet Linea Johnson. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 2012).
Self-Help Writing: Benefits of Journaling for Self-Help
The University of Rochester Medical Center lists these benefits of journaling for mental health: (University of Rochester Medical Center. October 8, 2011)
· Manage anxiety
· Reduce stress
· Cope with depression
Journaling helps control your symptoms and improve your mood by:
· Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns.
· Tracking any symptoms day to day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them.
· Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.
Journaling is a simple and productive way of expressing your feelings, thoughts and experiences. These experiences are perhaps different from the experiences of those who do not have bipolar disorder or another mental health disorder, or by the same token, may be experiences common to anyone. By writing about them, however, you can externalize your thoughts, creating a subjective account of them, while putting them into a state of comprehensibility for other people if you choose to.
Self-Help Writing - Journaling for Mental Health Self-Help
Writing then becomes an art by means of the creative way we express our conscious and unlock our mind to the subconscious. Insight is an important part of recovery with bipolar disorder. Journaling helps you gain needed insight.
Writing is a viable tool to release emotions and capsulize moods; even the act of writing down your thoughts and feelings on a piece of paper can be therapeutic. For some, even beyond the benefits of journaling and expressing your inmost thoughts in writing may be the comprehension of our words by another person, or whomever we might allow to read our written expressions and self-revelations. For some who are comfortable with online communication, a blog can accomplish a similar purpose.
Journaling for Mental Health Self-Help Writing References
1. Johnson, L. 2012. Perfect Chaos: A Daughter's Journey to Survive Bipolar, a Mother's Struggle to Save Her. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
2. Journal. Bipolar Insights. Retrieved October 8, 2012. http://bipolarinsights.com/?page_id=232
3. Journaling for Mental Health. October 8, 2011. Health Encyclopedia, University of Rochester Medical Center. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID;=4552
4. Meet Linea Johnson. Seeds of Recovery. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Retrieved August 14, 2012. http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=new_home