Journaling Mental Health

By Renee Bucci, MSc. OT, OT Reg.(Ont.)

Good ol’ pen and paper. Who would think that this combination can provide us with such therapeutic benefit? This month, I’d like us to think about journaling as a skill to consider for coping with experiences of distress or as a regular practice. It can offer us our own private and safe space to be honest with ourselves. It also allows for a release of emotions and a way for us to organize our thoughts. But how do we journal? Truthfully, any way that you want! The first suggestion is to use pen and paper. It is a much more powerful process to connect our minds to our page. I can provide you with 3 more suggestions to begin, especially if you’re feeling some writer’s block.

Stream of Consciousness Technique: There is essentially no method to it. Just write! This is an opportunity to just put pen to paper and write what is on your mind. Literally. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, censorship. The most interesting part of this technique is that over time, you will be able to uncover themes of your thoughts, triggers, patterns, and possibly some emotions that you weren’t even aware of.

Less and More List: This is a simple way of reflecting on how your day or past week has gone and setting intentions for what you would like more of and less of for the next day, week, or month. You can start your day off writing this list out, as well. It really is up to you! I’ll give you an example:

  • Stillness/sitting
  • Resisting change
  • Carbohydrates
  • Yoga, walking, exercise
  • Acceptance
  • Water and vegetables

Gratitude List: Here, you can write down 3-5 things that you are grateful for. You can focus on things that are big or small, something that is going well, or a personal success for the day (even if that means getting out of bed and changing your clothes). This list doesn’t have to be too complex, especially when it is difficult for something to come to mind. For example, the strength in our arms or legs, supportive people around us, access to food, the smell of a summer morning, and so on. The more we practice gratitude, the easier it will get to identify the aspects of our lives that we can be grateful for.

I’ve given you only a taste of what is in the world of journaling. There are no rules – you can create your own style, techniques, layout, and format. The point is just to write – and that is already good enough. When was the last time you’ve written in a journal? I like to think of this as mental hygiene and journaling is your floss. Carve some time out of your day for yourself; you will likely only need 10-15 minutes.

In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore, it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.” —Susan Sontag