So, you’ve probably heard that writing is good for mental health. If you haven’t… writing is good for mental health.
Sometimes all those crashing thoughts need a place to go. Capturing them in black and white, even imperfectly, can be a relief. It can also help bring order. And give perspective. Writing is a safe place to put those words you don’t know what else to do with.
Writing also allows you to track patterns, which is important in recovery, and staying as healthy as possible.
There are different useful approaches to mental health journaling.
Brain Dump… and Processing
Sometimes we just need to get all those painful, messy, turbulent, unwelcome, overwhelming, negative, whatever circling thoughts and emotions out. Both anxiety and depression can cause busy brain; either with too many thoughts bouncing around, impossible to use productively; or negative thoughts in an endless, loud, self-defeating loop. It’s overwhelming, but we’re not helpless. Arguing with negative self-talk as soon as you notice it is important, and can be effective. But when it gets beyond being shown who’s boss, putting it down on paper or computer screen, especially up against the truth, can help you take control.
Too many project ideas up there? Write them down. Choose one. One. To focus on for the moment. The rest can wait. If you’re in the good kind of hypomanic, use the energy and optimism as wisely as possible, and try to check yourself if you begin feeling like you’re a little too AWESOME. You may not want to, because euphoric hypomania feels great, but full-blown mania is likely to only get you in trouble.
In an elevated or depressed mood, think about what you’re thinking about.
Seeing your thoughts static in front of you, instead of just bouncing in your head, can help.
Here’s something I’ve found when I pause to write down the ugly thoughts when I can’t get them to stop: Slowing down enough to give my brain time to process, because the mind is way quicker than the hand whether it’s holding a pencil or typing on a keyboard, allows my brain the opportunity to see the truth and argue with the lies. We’re not worthless. We’re not hopeless. Life thus far has proven that the sun always rises and spring always returns; we’re bigger than this. And we’re worth it, our loved ones are worth it, and life will feel worth the effort again; we just need to hold on.
Sometimes, we just need to write. Which may or may not become journaling. Sometimes we need some direction, motivation, or structure.
Five prompts to help you see more clearly
- Describe the worst thing that has happened to you. If there’s something you’ve never said about it, write it. Look at it all from the perspective of having survived.
- Make a list of the negative thoughts that won’t stop repeating in your head. Look at them in black and white. Leave space to write a truth that argues with each lie.
- Write an unsent letter to someone who hurt you. Describe your feelings. Forgive.
- What is frustrating you or making you angry? Is it reasonable?
- What secrets are you keeping? How are they impacting your mental health?
Taking time to look around at what you have, and focusing there instead of on what you don’t have, can help mood. And not just acknowledging, but choosing to be grateful – even if you don’t feel it at the moment – is good brain, heart, and soul exercise.
Maybe you have things you’re rather not have. If you’re struggling with mental illness, you almost certainly do. But even though you’ve been through things you never would have chosen, they’re part of who you are, the person you have become. Not happy with how the hard things have formed you? You still have time and you have the strength, proven by what you’ve survived, for the bad to work for good. You have time and the strength to let go of bitterness, anger, and fear, and find a new way to frame the bad things that have happened to you.
If you can’t yet accept good things about yourself, you can’t deny that you’ve survived. You’re stronger than you thought. Whatever it was or is, it hasn’t beaten you.
And you can empathize with others who’ve been hurt. Empathy is a wonderful gift. For the one who feels it, and the one who receives it.
Consider making gratitude a regular part of your mental health journaling. It will help you in the moment, and remind you of brightness when things get dark.
Five Gratitude Prompts
- What’s the last thing that made you smile?
- How has a hard thing you’ve been through equipped you to walk beside someone else in pain?
- What’s your favorite music or book? Why?
- Write about something you accomplished today.
- What brings you comfort?
Tracking moods and symptoms, along with what’s going on around times of marked change, can help you identify triggers you may not have recognized. It can also show what’s working, and what’s not.
I know for me, when I’m down, it’s hard to remember that down is not my norm, that things will get better, and that feeling good about life and having a more positive outlook are not just symptoms of hypomania. Life isn’t always lousy, even if it feels that way. Oh, look, just a week ago, this or that good thing happened; I didn’t feel stuck under a dark cloud just a few days ago… This cloud just obscures my vision.
If you really want to get a clearer picture of how things are working in a treatment and maintenance regimen, you can try bullet journaling to track meds, moods, exercise, diet, etc., whatever you want to get a handle on for a better understanding of what’s affecting you, and the effect it’s having.
If you want to find out how that’s done, check out this great Goodful on Buzzfeed article about how to use a bullet journal for better mental health by Rachel Wilkerson Miller and Anna Borges.