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?