For many people, keeping a journal is a part of their everyday life. It can be amazing to look back on your early years to see how you used to think and feel. Sometimes it can help someone recall minor events in their lives that shaped them. However, did you know that journals are also valuable tools for mental health? Making and using a journal doesn’t only just help you; it also helps the people who are treating you.
Why Keep a Mental Health Journal?
Keeping a mental health journal is a way to help you understand and manage your mental health disorder. Recording what happens during your day can help you recognize patterns that may contribute to your negative symptoms. For example, keeping track of your meals may reveal that you are missing vital vitamins needed for brain functions. You may realize that you may feel worse after interacting with specific people. Recording dreams may reveal deep fears in your subconscious that you don’t realize are there during your waking hours.
By recording your daily life, you can look back on what has happened and see things from a different perspective.
How Can a Journal Be Used to Help Your Mental Health?
Sometimes a therapist will request a patient keep a journal during treatment. When shared with the mental health professionals treating you, they can pick out several things, such as:
- What is triggering your symptoms?
- What seems to make you feel better?
- Your general mood and feelings.
- Any different behaviors as the result of medication or treatment.
- The quality of your nutrition and sleep.
- Any recognizable patterns between actions and reactions.
By using this data, a therapist can devise new treatments and strategies to help you cope with your symptoms. For example, if it comes up that you feel the worst at night, your therapist may recommend some self-care strategies to help relax your anxiety. If you are struggling with nightmares, they may be able to identify what may be triggering them. A therapist may even be able to use the journal to help diagnose some types of mental health disorders.
A journal can also help you get your thoughts in order before sessions. This helps you decide what you would like to talk about in therapy and what symptoms you would like to address first. Having everything organized helps someone feel more in control of their mental health.
How Do You Start a Mental Health Journal?
It may seem intimidating at first, but starting a journal is easy.
Start Recording Your Day and Feelings
You simply need to record your day and your feelings in a way that makes you comfortable. Most people use a classic paper journal and write in it by hand. With the advent of technology, some people like to use websites and blogs. Many people today journal, though it is often called “blogging” when done on the internet. The hardest part is developing the discipline to write in it every day, so start small.
There are many kinds of journals as well. Some people keep a journal only to record dreams and some may keep a journal to keep track of the food they eat. For a general mental health journal, it’s important to keep track of everything that impacts you.
What to Write About
Some things to remember to record are:
- Dreams and nightmares
- What you eat and how often you eat
- Your feelings during the day
- Anything notable that happens, good or bad
- Your relationships with people in your life
You don’t have to write a lot. Sometimes a few brief sentences can get the job done. Some people like to write more than others, so never feel like it’s a contest to see how much you can write. The important part is recording what is happening and how you are feeling, and that is enough. As you get more practice, you may write more or less, and either of those is perfectly fine.
Carry a Mini Journal
It may be helpful to carry a mini notebook with you when you travel and jot down important events as they happen. That way, you remember details before putting them in your main journal. For those with memory problems due to trauma, it can help keep your events in order. That way, you don’t forget things that are important to remember.
Consider Sharing or Not Sharing Your Private Thoughts
You may also choose to keep your journal completely private. It is your right to choose if people read it or not. Some people will only share their journals with their therapists, and some will keep them completely secret. What you choose to do with your journal is up to you.
If you have trouble knowing where to start, your mental health provider can help you. Sometimes a therapist will assign “homework” to do outside of sessions. One of these may be to create a journal. If so, they will often provide examples and worksheets to help teach you what you need to know.
Remember, there is no wrong way to make a journal. The point is to help you and your therapist on your recovery journey. Take some time to figure out what works for you.
Keeping a mental health journal is one of the best ways to keep track of your mental health. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we employ caring and knowledgeable staff that can help you on your journey to recovery. One of the things we can do is help you figure out your thoughts and record them in a way to benefit yourself and your health. We are always there to answer questions, including on ways to improve your mental health. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder and would like more information, call (949) 647-4090 today to speak with one of our staff members.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.