Who would have thought that the diary of a Jewish girl would launch me on a journey that taught me how to start journaling for mental health?
All I wanted to do was be like Anne Frank, and keep a diary of my daily happenings that might one day inspire the world.
But as a 12-year-old living out in the country, the height of conflict in my life involved squabbling with my siblings over who had to feed the chickens. No danger lurked downstairs, and my two entries to “Kitty,” scrawled in an old spiral-bound notebook, held no poignant truths about the nature of humans.
Looking back at the childish entries and lonely, unfilled notebook, I see no hint that my feeble attempts at journaling would end up inspiring me to to change my world.
The summer I turned 14, I worked at a summer camp.
I found myself working with 60 other teenagers and young adults, and I developed a raging crush on not one, but two fellow staff members. My emotions played crack-the-whip with me on a daily basis.
I found a little spiral notebook and poured out my feelings of angst as I flirted my way through the summer. Much to my chagrin, neither young man considered me anything more than a little sister. A good thing, since they had reached the legal age.
What to do?
By the time I turned 17, I had returned to the same summer camp, this time as horsemanship director. I wrote about my trials again—this time in a stenographer’s notebook.
By now I had started reading the Bible on a regular basis, and my entries turned out half prayer, half lament. The same two boys (now in their early twenties) caused the bulk of my angst—along with co-workers and stubborn horses.
When I started college that fall, my relationship with Jesus had grown to the point that my journal entries started off as prayers each morning, and ended up a combination of observations, the occasional lament, and plenty of selfish requests.
Why Journaling is Important
Over the past 37 years, I have continued to write in journals. I talk to God more often and whine less. Sometimes, I lament and rail against those who frustrate, anger, or enrage me. For the past ten years or so, I have only missed a handful of days.
I get up before everyone else, prepare my decaf skinny latte, and settle down in my glider rocker for time with God.
Sometimes I study my Bible with more intensity than others, and I journal about what I read. I pray for other people, praise God for his goodness, count my blessings, and ask for strength and guidance for the day.
At times, I’ll return to my journal later in the day or evening—especially if I’ve had a rough day at work or if Pedro and I have had an argument. As I write, I start to see things from a different perspective.
Two or three pages later, I have usually achieved inner resolution or peace about the problem. I know the next step and feel courageous enough to take it.
A few years ago, I went back through the journals from the cancer year, expecting to find details about diagnosis and treatment. I read page after page and only found minimal references to cancer. Mostly I read words of praise to God, along with pleas for strength and grumblings about certain people who made my life my difficult.
Even in my darkest hours, I found myself journaling for mental health without even realizing it. When we write down our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, we validate them. We acknowledge that those things are true for us, and they have value in our lives.
Journaling for Mental Health
Acknowledging and validating our feelings gives us permission to step away from them and analyze what we want to do with them.
As a 14-year-old with multiple crushes, journaling helped me understand that I wasn’t a bad person for liking two boys at once. Writing my feelings down ended up helping me understand WHY I liked both boys.
As a 34-year-old, with two young daughters and a husband circling the drain, journaling helped me understand that in my darkest hour, God was with me. Writing my feelings down helped me understand the importance of absolute trust and my inability to change things on my own.
For some people (like me), getting thoughts on paper helps a person to sort through them. Reading over what I have written helps me to see where I’ve used faulty reasoning or harsh judgement. The act of writing helps dissipate the violence of my emotions.The act of writing helps dissipate the violence of my emotions. #journaling #mentalhealth #SelfCareSunday Click To Tweet
Improved Mental Health
If I stew on paper, I don’t need to ruminate for hours or days over a problem. I excise it, examine it, and move on. Researchers with letters after their names back up my experience with academic studies. Their studies show that journaling can improve health in those with asthma and arthritis. In addition, those who journal regularly visit the doctor less often.
Although my first attempts at writing a diary that would change the world failed, my later attempts at writing ended up changing my world.
My impulsive need to use words as weapons against others when I feel threatened has morphed into a daily habit that uses words as tools to help me better understand myself. And self-knowledge forms that basis of mental wholeness and improved mental health.
How to Start Journaling
If you’ve never tried journaling before, I suggest starting small.
1. Supplies: Find a pretty journal (if you’re a guy, find a handsome journal) or an empty notebook. If colorful pens make you happy, use them! Personally, I love fountain pens, so I treated myself to a nice one a few years ago.
2. Time and Space: Find a place where you can keep your journal and sit in comfort. I have a small table beside my glider rocker, as well as a small lamp and a candle. Make a commitment to write at about the same time each day for five minutes.
3. Why: Know your why. Spend some time analyzing WHY you want to journal. This free self-care checklist can help you sort out your why. Once you know your why, you’ll find it easier to stick to your journaling for mental health habit.
4. Content: Start with a list of things you are grateful for. Copy a Bible verse. Write about your goals and hopes. Write out a prayer or a conversation with God. Ask yourself questions. Whatever you do will be a great start.
Q4U: Have you ever kept a diary or journal on a regular basis? How has it helped you? What was the hardest thing for you about getting started?
Journaling is such a great reflective practice, and I find so often that I don’t know what I’m thinking (either about life or about what I’m reading in Scripture) until I’ve taken the time to write it down.
Michele Morin recently posted…Sunday Scripture ~ Genesis 1:1
Such an inspiring look back at how journaling helped you throughout the years, Anita! It’s truly helped me too in SOOO many ways! Lol! It’s like untangling thoughts with the help of written words and prayers. I can only imagine how hard it would be to go through life without this practice–leaving my emotions and thoughts a jumbled mess in my head and heart! I’m pinning this one for sure!
I started writing in diaries and I’m still writing in journals. You pointed out a key benefit I find – that if I excise it, write it down, get the emotion out on paper, I am better able to put it aside and stop ruminating on it. Often I will journal my thoughts and then offer them up to God, as if to say, “Can you take this right now…I’m tired of thinking about it?” Keeping a gratitude journal can be a great catalyst in changing my attitude. All of these aspects lead to improved mental health. Great post!
I have been one that will journal in different ways and sometimes I will go a few days that I do not journal but I do like to always have my journal near to me when I am doing my daily Bible reading and studying. At times I find I will write feelings but most of the time it is in the form of a conversation with God. I invite the Holy Spirit to be a part of my journaling process because I know I need his leading on my emotions and my thoughts. I always like to hear of how others journal as it will give me more ideas. Loved hearing your journaling journey through the years, thank you for sharing with us 🙂
At points of change in my life I have kept a journal. Writing about my experiences has helped me learn from them.The journal that I kept during my son’s cancer helped me recognize God’s care and intervention. I went back to my journals after my son died, and I could see God’s care for him and our family.
Great post Anita! Journaling is such a great mental health strategy as it helps to get our tangled thoughts & feelings down, giving us a new & more rational perspective as we write.
Like you I started Journaling a very long time ago & it has been invaluable!
Tea With Jennifer recently posted…Inner Narratives…
I have found journalling incredibly helpful too. It has helped me process feelings I didn’t know how to talk about and I find that it calms me and brings some kind of order to my mind.
I have found writing incredibly helpful and it has kept me from making many a wrong decision. Once it has been written or typed out, there is a release which comes … aka, peace.
I loved your look at journaling. I have journaled at times in my life, and it has been an excellent resource for writing. Most of my journaling are letters or thoughts to God. You have inspired me to find a small portion of my day to journal.
I keep my journal on my Ipad. It gives me the freedom to write and know that no one is reading it. I wouldn’t want someone to misunderstand my thoughts and feelings as I try to work through them.
I’ve journaled off and on. Sadly, I didn’t keep my journals from my teen years. It would be interesting to look back at my thoughts then, especially as most of my journaling took place the year before my parents divorced. My blog is probably the closest thing I have to a journal now, though I did start something of a bullet journal with my devotional time recently, mainly just as a way to stop and note and reinforce whatever I learned that day.
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Journaling can be so therapeutic. I have a friend who was a victim of sexual abuse. She journals for the main reason that you also noted: “The act of writing helps dissipate the violence of my emotions.”
I started off and on again diaries through out childhood. I didn’t seem to be able to stick with it. Now that I’m writing every day, it’s a lot easier. Sometimes my writing is journaling if I’m stuck in my story. I just switch gears. I also find that journaling helps writer’s block. It gets the creative juices flowing!
Jerralea recently posted…May Reflection Journal – #13
I have kept a journal for most of my life. Although, the entries were not regular until I noticed that they usually turn into prayers. So, now I have a prayer journal and find I am much better at writing in it regularly. It has been so amazing to look back and see so many prayers that God has answered, many times after I had given up on it so I didn’t see the answer right away. God’s faithfulness pours from the pages and I love it. Great Post! Many Thanks 8)
Debra Jean recently posted…Can Judgement be Good
I started journaling when we began homeschooling thirty years ago. At first it was just writing down what we studied, then it turned into more. I have not done it daily and sometimes skipped nearly a year, but in the past few years I have used it to lament, to write out thoughts jumbling in my brain, to process through things and more. I have also written out prayers and scripture, and I think all of it has helped me immensely. And I encourage others to write out their thoughts when they are struggling with something or someone.
Great post, Anita! Blessings to you!