Do you remember those little lock diaries we used to have when we were teenagers? It was a place to confess our struggles and fears without judgment or punishment. It felt so good to get all of those thoughts and feelings out of our head and down on paper. Spilling all our secrets on those colourful pages brought so much clarity to our angsty selves, didn’t it?

Well, turns out writing a diary isn’t just something that helps adolescents figure out who they’re crushing on for the week, but also something that can help you keep your mental health in check! Only now we’re calling it by a different name – Journaling.

So, what is journaling?

Journaling as a practice is simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. Even if it’s negative thoughts, “nonsense” or things you might otherwise consider insignificant, or just scribbling random thoughts on a page – journaling helps clear your mind and figure out what exactly is bothering you or causing unpleasant feelings.

The word often has a negative connotation for adults: the sense that it’s for young people who are trying to figure out who they are and deal with raging hormones and high school drama. Well, journaling is not exclusively for girls or teens —it’s for anyone who can write! It is a form of self-expression that can lift and empower people to understand their own complex feelings.

Many mental health experts suggest making journaling a part of your daily routine. It can also be a great companion to therapy! It can help you be in control of your own thoughts and emotions by being mindful and conscious of them. Studies have shown that journaling can help improve mood as well as manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“What gets measured, gets managed”

I read this proverb in a business journal once and I’ve sworn by it ever since. Although this principle gets applied majorly to business situations, I have come to realise that it’s worked for me in other spheres of my life as well, be it fitness, diet or mental health! It can mean that simply examining an activity changes the activity by forcing you to pay attention to it. It can also mean that producing measurements about the activity gives you a handle on it and helps you find a way to improve it. This is exactly how maintaining a journal helps you – by keeping written track of all your thoughts, feelings and emotions. When you have a better idea of what your triggers are, you can manage your mental health more efficiently.

Additionally, you can also use your journal to help improve certain habits and behaviours that might be causing distress in your life.

How to start journaling for mental health/How do I start journaling for mental health?

  1. Pick a convenient time:

Of course, you can write whenever you feel like it but when starting off with effective journaling, it helps to set apart a certain fixed time period in your day. This helps make this activity a daily habit because over time, your brain will automatically remind you when it’s time to sit down and pick up your journal!

  1. Set a timer and write till it goes off:

Once you’ve picked a time that is convenient for you, challenge yourself to write whatever comes to your mind for 20 minutes. Don’t worry about things not making sense. Even if all you end up writing is “I don’t know what to write” – it’s still a successful attempt. A window of 15-30 minutes is usually a good start but feel free to adjust it according to your needs. If it gets overwhelming, it’s absolutely okay to step away. Remember you’re doing this for yourself!

  1. Get creative with it:

Your journal is all about you! It’s a judgement free zone where you can express all your thoughts, fears and emotions. Feel free to express in whichever way you see fit. Draw, decorate, make a list, write down a song, write a letter to a friend or yourself – anything that helps you feel better. Experiment till you find what works for you and have fun with it!

A few resources to help you get started

Starting a journal when you’ve never written one can be difficult. It’s completely normal if you don’t know where to get started or confused about what to write. Here are a few prompts that might help you begin. Once you get in the flow, your thoughts will come easily to you and you’ll be able to write them down more efficiently.

  1. Talk about your day.
  2. Write down things you’re grateful for.
  3. Describe a certain goal that you have for your life.
  4. Write about how different you were 5 years ago.
  5. Write down how you’d describe yourself to someone you’re meeting for the first time.
  6. Write or describe how you’re feeling in that specific moment.

It’s important to choose a medium of journaling that you feel comfortable with. If you’re on your phone or desktop for most of the time, you might find it easier to maintain a digital journal. Here are a few apps that you can use to get into the habit of journaling:

  1. Diaro – In case you’re feeling extra creative, this one lets you include images in your diary entries!
  2. Journey
  3. Penzu – The most secure journal app out there!
  4. Day One
  5. Daylio

Keeping a journal helps you create order when your world feels like it’s in chaos. You get to learn more about yourself by revealing your most private fears, thoughts, and feelings. Treat your writing time as a personal relaxation time; self-care. It's a time when you can de-stress and wind down. Write in a place that's relaxing and soothing, maybe with a cup of tea. And know that you're doing something good for your mind and body.

Please note: It’s important to remember that different things work for different people. For example, one study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that people who focused on emotions and reliving upsetting events during their journaling sessions, rather than processing the meaning of those events, reported worse outcomes than other groups in the study. While journaling is a safe and neutral exercise, if it has negative outcomes for you or you simply feel like it’s not working for you – know that it is absolutely okay to stop at any time!

Additionally, while journaling can help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety, it is important to understand that mental disorders stem from deeper issues and need to be dealt with professionally. Mental disorders and problems are treatable and manageable with the right kind of support!