Journaling can be a great practice for many reasons.
Many people are curious about journaling but don't know where to start. Journaling can be a great way to let go of something that's bothering you, clear the cobwebs of your mind when you are overwhelmed so that you can think clearly about next steps, get in touch with your emotions, and non-destructively express yourself. Writing by hand, especially, has some very beneficial aspects that should be taken into account when getting started with journaling. You can read more about the benefits of writing by hand here.
There are many different methods that have been offered as ways to go about beginning journaling if it's something that you've never thought about or done before. Sometimes when I hear a client who seems to be needing to process a certain scenario repeatedly and/or seems to have a very busy brain, I'll suggest they start a journal as a place to process and put things down in between sessions. Many people are verbal processors, and it helps to verbalize the little and big things in life in order to sort through their feelings about things, draw insights, or move forward with a goal or relationship. Journaling is a great way to provide yourself the means to do so, without relying on anyone's listening ear that may or may not be available to you.
Sometimes I'll have a hunch that journaling would be helpful to someone I'm working with and when I suggest it, I've often heard resistance. Taking the time to do it, of course can be one objection. The usefulness of journaling does not have to be a lengthy process. While it can be used for processing as mentioned previously, this is not the only way to use it. It can be useful as a gratitude journal to write down 5-10 things you are grateful for, which has been proven to alleviate depression symptoms as well as having a positive impact on your physical health. You can read more about the benefits of gratitude journaling on your mind and body including some of the research in this article here. Writing a short list of things you are grateful for on a regular basis can be something that takes 1-2 minutes but has a major positive impact. #gratitudejournal
Another quick way that journaling can be helpful that is not time consuming is as a tool to get in touch with yourself. Sometimes in therapy clients will express that they only are in touch with how they feel when they get to the session, and otherwise throughout their week they are not in touch with how things are impacting them. As people get going in therapy and start unpacking things and practicing more and more self-reflection, it can be beneficial to have this experience be a bit more integrated into their daily lives. One way to do that can be to just write a few thoughts or feelings upon waking or just before going to sleep. It could be 2-5 sentences about something that happened and how it made you feel. This is a tool often used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help get to know yourself so that you can better manage your feelings and experiences. #cognitivebehavioraltherapy #cbt It can be as simple as writing "I feel (fill in the blank)". If you have trouble naming your feelings, it might help to look at an emotions wheel.
If you do want to set aside more time, say 15-30 minutes or so, synonymous with the aforementioned method of using journaling for processing is thinking of it as a stream of consciousness process. This can help get in touch with your subconscious, bringing things to light that you might not realize are bothering you, or insights or solutions you have about a situation that might not be obvious without digging a little deeper into your psyche. Journaling is a way to do just that. Stream of consciousness journaling involves putting pen to paper without thinking just letting yourself write whatever comes immediately to mind/to pen. This requires a certain level of non-judgement on your part. If your self-judgement or self-doubt gets in the way, this will be more challenging to benefit from. It can be a great way to practice not judging yourself and just letting whatever you want flow out. This practice can get you in touch with your intuition and out of your analytical brain. So often we try to figure things out with our analytical brain, and that is not always where the answers can be found. Getting out of logic, reason, and systematic thinking is extremely beneficial on many levels. This journal does not have to be something that you keep, you can throw away whatever you write or burn the page if that feels good, too.
Speaking of which, this is an objection I have often heard as well. Some of my clients have objected to journaling because they are afraid that someone might eventually find it and read it, and/or they don't even want to re-read what they wrote. Journaling does not have to be a timekeeper or a keepsake (unless you want it to be). It can literally be just a moment-to-moment processing tool that once it has served its purpose in that moment on that day, never has to be re-visited again. Stream of consciousness journaling is not a way to track events or time. It is simply a tool to get in touch with your inner wisdom and/or let go of lingering mental trash that may be taking up precious real estate in your mind.
I love the wonderful stream of consciousness journaling practice spoken about by Julia Cameron who wrote "The Artists Way". She talks about doing it first thing in the morning and how beneficial this can be and has great guidance on this practice. You can learn more about her morning pages practice here. #morningpages #theartistsway
The last way to use journaling that I think can be extremely helpful is when you are completely overwhelmed and feeling panicky or shut down because of it. It can help tremendously to stop what you are doing and take pen to paper and write everything that is bothering you. Getting it all down on paper can calm your nerves, help you prioritize and realize what is important. Maybe you'll get a helpful list out of it or realize something that can be taken off the list. And/or maybe you'll sort through what part of your overwhelm can be handed off to someone else, who you can ask for help. Or maybe breaking down your overwhelming moment into smaller bite sized chunks will help you think straight and keep doing what you need to do to get through that moment.
As you can see, there are many ways to go about journaling for your mental health. I hope this gives you the inspiration to give it a shot!