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Journalling for mental health

Start a fresh, new journal and get writing to boost your wellbeing.

Research has found that journalling can be an important psychological resource with a variety of mental health benefits. It’s important to find the type of journalling that works best for you and best meets your wellbeing goals – whether you’re looking for a greater sense of inner peace, feeling more organised and on top of things, or a space to explore your thoughts and feelings.

According to Simone Naidoo, life coach at On Purpose Personal Development, journalling can help you:

Set intentions and reach goals. 

  • Heal emotionally and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Investigate and express your emotions.
  • Grow your creativity.
  • Become kinder and express gratitude to yourself and others.
  • Declutter and clarify your thinking.
  • Grow your self-confidence.
  • Address and solve problems.

Types of journalling

Depending on your goals, Simone suggests trying one or more of these different journalling techniques:

Gratitude journal 

‘A gratitude journal helps you move from a state of lack to one of abundance,’ says Simone. Practising gratitude has been
linked to feeling happier and experiencing a better quality of life, better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, healthier relationships, improved mental resilience and higher self-esteem. Over the past decade, gratitude journalling has become
a popular practice, often recommended by mental health professionals, as it continues to produce concrete, positive results for many individuals.

How does it work? 

Gratitude journalling is a straightforward practice. In many of the studies investigating its benefits, people were simply asked to record five brief entries a week detailing things for which they felt grateful. Their entries could be focused on simple, everyday occurrences, such as waking up in the morning, or interpersonal reasons, such as thankfulness for someone else’s generosity, or music or films they enjoyed.

Although life might often feel overwhelming and certain days may be highly stressful, gratitude journals help identify the many bright spots in a day or a week that might otherwise have passed by unnoticed or unappreciated. They can help remind you that things aren’t as bad as you thought – or, even if they are, that there are still moments in between your hardship to feel grateful for.

Tips for gratitude journalling: 

In Your Post-Divorce Journey Back to Yourself (AuthorHouse) by Darryl G Weinman, professor at the University of California and leading expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons shares these research-based tips for getting the most out of your gratitude journal:

  • Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journalling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful.
  • Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
  • Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you’re grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you’re grateful.
  • Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
  • Savour surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
  • Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journalling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterwards; people who wrote three times per week didn’t.’

Emmons explains that translating our thoughts into language, written or oral, makes us more aware of them and deepens their emotional impact, as well as helping us organise our thoughts, accept them and put them into context. ‘In essence, it allows you to see the meaning of events going on around you and create meaning in your own life,’ he writes. He also encourages people to make gratitude journalling habitual and not to sweat the details too much:

‘You don’t need to buy a fancy personal journal to record your entries in, or worry about spelling or grammar. The important thing is to establish the habit of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events.’

Expressive journal 

‘Expressive journalling allows you to identify emotional patterns and heal from within,’ says Simone. This type of journalling should be focused on feelings, rather than simply detailing thoughts, events or situations. The aim of expressive
journalling is to learn to accurately express and explore your emotions through words, and avoid pushing them away or denying them. This can help you identify problematic thinking patterns and break deeper connections and beliefs that are unhelpful or damaging.

How does it work? 

Simone encourages writing in your journal daily. ‘The more you practise something, the more you program the subconscious mind to create the habit. I suggest creating a journalling practice with your morning coffee or at night before bed,’ she says. She also suggests using prompts that are relevant to you and can help you ‘connect to what’s real and true for you in the present moment’.

For example:

  • What am I feeling right now?
  • What am I thinking right now?
  • Who am I?
  • What is my purpose?
  • Who do I need to forgive?
  • How can I grow from this?

Most importantly, Simone says: ‘Start and don’t stop. Don’t judge what you write – just use the time to connect with your thoughts and emotions and accept whatever shows up on the page.’ She also suggests incorporating your journalling into a healing routine, with other practices like meditation and affirmations for additional wellbeing benefits.


Bullet journal


‘Bullet journals help you unpack your thoughts and sort and organise them. They’re also great for affirmations,’
explains Simone. Bullet journals are perhaps best summed up as ‘Marie Kondo for notebooks’. Rather than keeping
scattered notes across various notebooks, the bullet journal is a streamlined, organisational system that helps you
keep track of tasks, record a minimalist calendar, write diary entries and explore your creative side.

How does it work? 

Generally, bullet journals feature a daily log, a monthly log and a future log, and are navigated through the use of symbols for events, notes and tasks, with additional symbols to signify when tasks have been completed, moved to a different section, scheduled, or are considered lower-priority. They’re designed to help you quickly and efficiently understand, plan and log various aspects of your life and often include trackers for things like workouts, diet, mood and sleep. Bullet journals are meant to be used daily, by ‘rapid logging’, and then reviewed each month. After reviewing, you can move the relevant bits to the next monthly spread, a practice called ‘migration’. While it might all sound a bit complicated, once you get the
hang of it, bullet journalling comes to feel natural and efficient, and helps streamline and organise your life.


The post Journalling for mental health appeared first on Your Family.

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