07 Jul 2021
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Journaling: A how-to guide

Cathryn lavery f MD Cru6 O Tk unsplash

by The Indigo Project

Many of us might have read online about journalling or been told by our mates (or our therapists) about how useful it can be.

Journalling has indeed been shown, time and time again in the research, to be something that helps us manage our mental health and develop a deeper understanding about our thoughts, feeling and behaviours. Some of the benefits of journalling include:

  • Helping to manage anxiety
  • Reducing stress
  • Dealing with depression
  • Helping you prioritise goals and clarify values
  • Helping you work through problems, fears and obstacles
  • Tracking symptoms day-to-day, identifying triggers and learning how to manage them
  • Providing an opportunity to identify negative thoughts and habits and shifting self talk to something more positive and helpful

Okay, sounds great. So how do I start?

Make it Easy.
Have a notebook and pen at the ready. Set an upper limit to your journalling (e.g. “I will write one page max”) – this will make it less likely that you’ll overcommit and give up when it gets overwhelming.

Create a Ritual.
Whether it’s a daily or weekly practice, see if you can commit to journalling at a similar time of day (maybe first thing in the morning, or just before bed). Create a safe and relaxing space for yourself (brew yourself a cup of tea, light a candle, or sit in your favourite chair).

Set Intentions.
It can be helpful to have an intention around what your purpose for journalling is. For some, it can be managing anxious or depressive thoughts, for others, it can be reflecting on your emotional state and exploring how you feel in your mind and body. Perhaps you want to use it as an opportunity to reflect on how you’re living in line with your values? Or you might journal to explore relationship dynamics.

There are no rules when it comes to what you can write about, but setting intentions allows the practice to be purposeful and more effective, particularly when working with specific issues.


Bonus tips for journaling like a pro:

Investigate nature of thoughts vs content of thoughts: It can be easy to get swept up in what our thoughts are saying while journalling, that we forget to investigate what else they’re doing. E.g. Are they helpful to us? Is there evidence that they were true? Are they the sort of things we’d say to a friend or loved one?

Handwrite: While you can use your laptop or phone for journalling, handwriting has been shown to have a greater therapeutic affect, as it can help us slow down and process our thoughts a little more effectively.

End with an affirmation: We could all learn to talk to ourselves with a little more kindness. So, you might like to finish off your journalling practice with some positive words specific to who you are or what you’re working through.

Journalling prompts: If you feel a little overwhelmed by the pressures of a blank page, you might want to use prompts to start the process. Return to your intention (what are you working on or exploring?), jump over to your ol’ mate Google, and type in something like…

Journaling prompts for:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • self-love
  • healing
  • self discovery
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