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How Daily Journaling Can Improve Your Mental Health

It's the most cost-effective form of therapy.

Daily Journaling
Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

THE NOISE IN YOUR HEAD

“I’m an idiot for saying that… I wonder what they’ll think of me…”

How many of you are victim to your own thoughts? If we were all in a classroom setting, I’d be willing to bet that most hands in the room would be raised because it’s normal to experience anxiety. Funny enough, these anxious thoughts tend to creep up on us at the most inconvenient times, like when your boss is droning on about instructions for your project or when you’re tossing and turning trying to fall asleep.

If you catch yourself laying awake at 2am simulating conversations, assuming the reaction and response from the other party, and formulating defeating thoughts, the first step is to understand that most thoughts are not reality. Anxiety is simply fear from not knowing – not knowing what others are thinking of you or how others will react… These are fictional situations that we blow out of proportion in our minds due to lack of communication or absence of fact.

The problem is that our heads are filled with these free radical thoughts buzzing between our ears, distracting us from reality and mental clarity. It’s like trying to fall asleep in a silent room with a fly buzzing around – there is no ignoring it, no matter how hard you try. We have to address it somehow, especially now during this 2020 COVID-19 pandemic forcing us into social isolation, boxing us in our small spaces of residence, alone with our thoughts…

SILENCING THE NOISE

The golden question is how do we silence that noise in our heads?

Guided meditation has become increasingly popular in the past several years. If you have tried it and found it to be beneficial, that’s fantastic! Keep at it! I gave it a try, but I found myself bored and distracted with my thoughts drifting elsewhere while I listened to some voice tell me how to breathe for a $95 annual fee. The fly was still in the room, this wasn’t helping.

What about exercise? Exercise has been a part of my life for 15 years and I have found it to be a fantastic tool to escape from my thoughts, elevate my mood, and improve cognitive performance. These are all very valuable benefits, but even exercise didn’t help me directly address and resolve these thoughts I was having and emotions that I was feeling. At the end of the day, I found exercise to be more of a healthy distraction and a temporary mood booster than a direct solution.

I know, let’s go out and meet with friends! Oh, right… Can’t leave the house. Quarantine aside, talking with friends is definitely healthy and beneficial. Your friends can distract you from your negative emotions or help talk you through them, which I have always found to lift my spirits and shine a new light of perspective on any situation that I am going through, but that peace of mind seems to fade once we part ways, and here we are once again alone with our thoughts.

Everything mentioned has its benefits and contributes a piece to the overall solution, but the only thing that has truly helped me silence the noise was spilling my thoughts down on paper and staring them down face-to-face through daily journaling.

WHY DAILY JOURNALING?

Journaling is a means of objective introspection by putting down your thoughts on paper and taking on an external perspective. Sometimes things torment us in our minds, but when we write them down and read them back to ourselves, we realize how convoluted our minds are at times. This is a great way to get your thoughts out of that “brain fog” into clarity, or out of that “emotional blindness” into the light to begin the process of unraveling the knots in our minds.

One of the worst things we can do to ourselves is to ignore our emotions, which is why it is important to acknowledge what you are feeling and understand why you are feeling that particular way. Daily journaling provides a means to record exactly what you are feeling however way you choose to best reflect your current state of mind.

For example, when I feel angry, I write short, impulsive bursts of my thoughts as they come to my mind with no regard for grammar nor proper sentence structure. If I feel happy and productive, I’ll write several paragraphs about my day. Some days I’ll write down a quote that I came across which resonated with me that day, or if I am emotionally neutral all day and completely unproductive, I’ll just scribble down a single sentence acknowledging it.

Simply writing in the moment may help alleviate tension, though it’s also a good idea to note any external factors which may impact your mood, including the weather, how you slept the night before, or your social interactions that particular day. This will allow you to look back and identify trends that will further help understand the mechanisms of your mind and how these external factors influence your mentality. As a bonus, you’ll be able to come back to your journal entry one day to read a snapshot of your thoughts and emotions at that particular moment and appreciate how far you’ve evolved since then.

HOW TO START DAILY JOURNALING

Like most people who keep a daily journal, I got my start in daily journaling with pen and paper. Physical journaling is very satisfying and I personally love the feeling of ink on paper. The beauty of pen is that it is permanent and cannot easily be altered, unlike typing on a computer, which adds a layer of “rawness” to your entries. However, the issue I found with physical journaling was that I found myself slacking and making excuses not to write because I didn’t always have my journal on me or because I didn’t feel like writing.

Digital journaling is another great option and I found it to be a better fit for me. There are plenty of great apps out there that sync across all of your devices, so you can sit down and write about your day on your laptop or pull out your phone at any moment to jot down your thoughts. I also love how you can quickly snap a picture, take a video, or a voice recording to add to your documentation for the day, allowing for far more versatility with expression.

Whatever method you choose, just write. Write in the moment or write at the close of the day. Write when you’re happy. Write when you’re confused. Write when you’re hurting. One sentence or an essay, it doest matter. Write what you want, how you want, when and where you want. It’s for you and you only. Its pure expressive freedom.

“I don’t journal to ‘be productive.’ I don’t do it to find great ideas or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me. It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.”

TIM FERRISS

What’s on your mind right now? Start writing.

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