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The Ultimate Guide to Journaling for Mental Health.

Everything and more has already been written about journaling, so why this text? 

I thought I’d share some insights from a psychological – or better yet – psychotherapeutic perspective. Journaling can be a vital part of mental health care, plus I myself have been journaling since I was a teenager – so how about that for a start:)

What is journaling?

In today’s world, journaling – once again – is becoming more and more popular. Obviously, it’s not last year’s invention. People have been journaling since they learned how to write. They recorded their days to remember what happened. They wrote down poems, short stories, and doodles as a form of recollecting their emotional state and a way to explore deeper who they are.

The beautiful part is - journaling is what you want it to be. It can be anything from a two-sentence sum-up of your day, a five-page elaborate psychological analysis, or a dynamic rant if you please. Raise your hand if you hadn’t written a diary when you were a teenager. Remember how it helped put things into perspective? Why not do it now?  We live in a world that’s often overwhelming; so much is happening, and sometimes it’s not possible to fully grasp the moment. Keeping a journal lets you reflect deeper, and this in itself can bring understanding and ease the tension or anxiety. Journaling has always been about putting pen to paper and enabling what was happening in your head to transfer smoothly to the pages. Why?

Why would you want to write? Benefits of journaling.

Taking care of our mental health is not an easy three-step job. But one thing that is fundamental when you want to start is good enough self-awareness. And it’s all about staying in the moment – it’s not quantum physics – you can make it as simple as you want – and the way to go about it may be journaling. All in all – it is the easiest, the cheapest technique, one that you can do at home or wherever you are. You can do it by yourself or use it as your ‘little helper’ if you actually are in therapy. Above all, journaling allows you to understand your emotions and your behavior better, so it eventually has the potential to lower your anxiety level and reduce stress. Of course – as with all great advice – this may be not for everyone. Try it for some time and only do it if you see the benefits. Don’t force yourself to keep writing because somebody (a LOT of somebodies) said it helped them. It may not be your thing. Having said that – I honestly don’t know anyone who’d done it and said it was pointless. I know people who wouldn't start, or who didn't know how to continue, but we’ll get to that later. 

A lot of what’s happening in our heads is unconscious, so if you let yourself pour the words out of your head to your notebook/or iPad/computer, or whatever medium you use – you may be surprised by what you will find. It’s like a treasure you never knew you had. The connections between your behavior and the way you feel towards someone or something, even yourself, some of the repetitive patterns you otherwise wouldn’t notice, and so on and so forth. Plus, there’s that feeling of accomplishment when you browse through your old entries. Seeing how you’ve grown and what you’ve accomplished… It really can be pretty rewarding.  If you’re thinking of bringing more mindfulness into your life – this is a pretty good way to do it. Journaling is a great way to stop and pause for a moment. It is purely between you and you. And you want to be completely honest for the whole process to make sense. So when you choose the medium, make sure you’re able to take care of your privacy. (More about that in the “analog or digital” part).

What else can you gain?

Everything I mentioned above – self-awareness and a great start to a more mindful living, but also:

  • The added value of journaling is the occasional feeling of great insight when you’re able to see the deeper meaning or understand what’s been vague before.

  • You preserve your memories. When you’re consistent, you eventually get a pretty thorough overview of your life.

  • You improve your writing. It’s an indisputable fact – the more often you do something – the more fluent you get at it. Writing is a skill, and as such, it can be improved and polished.

Who can do it?

Well, everyone:) No matter if you’re 12 or 63, you can still find enormous value in getting to know yourself. No matter what stage of life you’re in, or what your occupation is – you can try and use journaling as a great tool for navigating your own life.

How do you do it?

The first thing to remember is – you’re doing it for yourself. Hence – you don’t need to pay attention to any grammar, or any rules. You know yourself best; you know how your days go, so find the best time that works for you. Make sure you can sit for 10 -15 minutes and write uninterrupted. For some, it will be right after you wake up, before even taking your phone;) For some – last thing before you go to bed. Some prefer to carry a notebook or phone/tablet everywhere with them and write whenever they feel like it. You can choose whatever time – as long as you make it work for you. You don’t have to stick to the time every single day, but the regularity and structure seem to work for a lot of people. The goal is to just do it – so choose a way that helps you create your new routine. 

There are a couple of methods of journaling, and you can do it however you like. The most important thing is to do it regularly. But again – there’s no ONE proper way to journal. The beauty of the process is you can do it however you want – it’s supposed to be between you and you – so get rid of that need for perfectionism and start filling out the pages. You have probably noticed I’m not one to tell you to adhere to strict rules, but having said that – it’s better if you give yourself some time to try it. Journaling is not a miracle maker; the change and insight might and might not happen overnight. Though if you give yourself the time, honesty, and consistency – you will experience those “AHA!” moments sooner than you think. I’ll list some of the things you may think of to start exploring:

  • free writing – this one is one of my favs. You keep writing whatever comes to your mind – about the day that passed or about something you’re trying to wrap your head around. You’ll be so surprised with your mind. It will start grabbing some thoughts and reflections from your unconsciousness. And this is gold. When you write without judgment and without expecting anything – going back to this entry and reading it may bring you more insight than you could get just by thinking about it repetitively.

  • Gratitude entries – because too often, we don’t pay attention to what we have. Journaling is a great way to focus on that a little bit more.

  • Brain dump – a theme word, e.g. “conflict,” “relationship,” “parenting,” etc. – you simply put the word at the top, in the middle wherever you please, and write down whatever comes to mind when you think about it. It may be words or short statements. It’s amazing what you can find;)

  • a letter to a younger self – this one’s huge. It is also about gratitude and appreciation, about embracing the way you were, the way you tried to get where you are now.

Analog or digital?

There are some orthodox who will want to convince you only handwritten journals are worth keeping. And of course – there is something magical about putting pen to paper, about pouring your words onto blank pages that later are the carrier of your words. But let’s not be too strict about it. It’s your journal – you choose how you do it. I myself switch. I love writing by hand but there are months or years when I choose the digital version. 

Last but not least – for your journaling process to work smoothly – you need to feel safe using it. Physical notebooks are more difficult to secure, but you can always throw one under the bed or to that safe behind the painting:) Something to think about is also – where will you keep your growing collection. No such problem with a digital one.

You create a password and all you need to do now is remember to back up your file.  I assume you back up your important files anyway (right??;)), so that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

How do you continue doing it?

Not only are we – people – creatures of habit, but the curious thing is we tend to stick with those habits that bring us value. If you journal mindfully if you grow through the process – you will want to continue – it’s as simple as that. To help you get started – you can set yourself a reminder to write or keep it on your bedside table if you want to do it before going to bed or right after you wake up.

And finally – observe the process you’re a part of. Get curious about when it’s easier for you to write, and when it’s more complicated. Don’t judge yourself; just observe what’s going on. It is a part of the process as well. I’ve noticed I’m much more inclined to keep writing when I go through intense periods of my life. 

And finally – journaling is a conversation with yourself. And you are an expert in your own life.  One rule that will help you – be totally honest with yourself. When you write about your emotions, and you try to go to the bottom of the situations – do not pretend anything. Do not make yourself look better – reach for your honest insight now that you have processed it through. Be vulnerable. Then and only then will it make sense.


I hope you’ll find my take on journaling useful. Don’t forget to sign up here if you want to get a list of 50+ inspirational prompts to use in your daily journaling practice.

journaling Karolina Fotyga

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