By Georgina El Morshdy
Discover how to improve mental and emotional well-being through the power of writing.
Can the simple act of writing really help improve your mental and emotional well-being? The short answer is YES! Plus, you can have a lot of fun in the process while enhancing your levels of self-awareness and acceptance.
Not to be mistaken with diary writing, journaling is more of an intuitive, free-flow activity. When journaling, be less concerned with keeping a record of what you’ve done and more curious about diving into the way you feel and how events and experiences are impacting you.
In this way, journaling helps you to get under the surface of your life. This is because journaling offers a safe, non-judgmental space for you to express your true thoughts, process what you’re experiencing, and calm your mind by ‘dumping’ mental clutter onto the blank page. Journaling is an outlet that creates s-p-a-c-e to breathe. It’s a proactive practice that empowers you to do something constructive with thoughts and feelings that may be pulling you under or confusing you. Your journal is a place where you can celebrate the wins, navigate the lows, work through the disappointments and failures, or reflect on what you’ve learned.
Most importantly, journaling is a practice that brings you into a deeper connection with yourself. It’s a tool that empowers you to KNOW yourself.
And in a world where the external noise and pressure continue to increase, self-awareness could be one of the most important and valuable attributes you own.
Here are some techniques to try.
1. Stream of consciousness journaling
If in doubt, write out your stream of consciousness! This simply means following the threads of your thinking anywhere they choose to take you. This type of journal entry can look chaotic and unstructured because a wandering mind will likely disappear down lots of tangents and take the long road home! However, the power of this technique is that it gives air to what’s really bubbling inside.
Stream-of-consciousness journaling is a safe way to blurt out your worries, stresses, fears, and all the mental clutter that can get us in tangles and knots. As you pull on the threads of your thinking, deeper thoughts can bubble up. As you clear out headspace by venting your truth, you also gain clarity. Giving space to your thoughts and processing them through writing helps you to see what’s under the surface. As you pull away the onion layers, you can sometimes see what your conscious mind was avoiding.
In turn, you get yourself in a better position to navigate life, which can have a positive impact on your mental and emotional well-being.
2. Gratitude journaling
We can improve the way we feel and elevate our mental and emotional well-being when we practice noticing what’s good in our lives.
It’s essential to be in tune with your true feelings. Toxic positivity is a thing! If something significant is keeping you down, conditioning yourself to feel better by looking in the other direction is like putting a sticking plaster on a broken arm. It’s not a long-term solution.
That said, a gratitude practice is a proven way to ignite feelings of positivity by activating feelings of abundance. We live in a materialistic world. As a result, our environment programs us to keep wanting more. This factor puts us at risk of never feeling satisfied or enough.
Gratitude is a powerful practice that can counter this force because it guides your mind to notice what you ALREADY have.
A gratitude practice works best when you ‘lower the bar’. Here’s what I mean by this… It’s easy to feel grateful for the big things, such as a pay rise, an expensive gift, or a surprise party. However, how many small, everyday things go overlooked?
Gratitude elevates your noticing skills by inviting you to see the magic that exists in your life now. The sunset, the feeling of the wind blowing through your hair, a smile from a stranger etc. (Discover a list of 101 things to be grateful for in this download).
It’s easy to practice gratitude. Simply write about the thing you’re grateful for. For extra depth, explore the why. For example, I’m grateful for this warm cup of tea because it’s an opportunity to feel grounded in myself and take a quiet moment for me.
3. Journaling with question prompts.
Question prompts are always a potent tool because they can cut through the mental noise and guide your brain’s thinking power down specific trains of thought.
Questions hijack your brain. This means that when you ask a good question, you activate your problem-solving skills, curiosity, and creativity.
Here’s a selection of prompts you can ask yourself to bolster your mental and emotional well-being.
1. Exactly how do you feel?
SPECIFICITY is the key here. When you’re specific about your feelings, you’re better empowered to take your next steps. For example, are you feeling angry, or are you feeling provoked, ridiculed, or withdrawn?
Going to an extra layer of depth on your feelings elevates your emotional intelligence and empowers you to be more nuanced in your descriptions and subsequent action. For example, your next steps for anger and ridicule may differ wildly.
The Feelings Wheel by Dr. Gloria Willcox is a powerful tool for increasing specificity over your emotional language.
2. What CAN you control?
The Serenity Prayer asks, “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” When you unlock the answer to this question, you can focus your attention and energy on your locus of control.
3. What’s available to you right now?
This question helps you acknowledge what’s in your sphere of influence -- it helps you hone in on the skills and resources you have to hand. It empowers you to see what’s stacked in your corner. Writing a l-o-n-g list to this answer can be helpful because it helps us uncover all the options you have at your disposal -- some of which you may not have thought about at first glance.
4. What NOW. What NEXT. What LATER?
When you’re feeling overwhelmed because you have many things to sort through and resolve, this question can help you organize everything. Remember, you can handle a LOT in your life, just not everything at once! This question is excellent for prioritization. It also clears the mind. When you know you’ll get to something next, or later, you can forget about those things, freeing you to focus all your efforts on the here and now.
5. You can handle this because… (derivatives -- you can grow from this, you can leverage this, you can solve this…)
Use this type of question to remember who you are. Allow your mind to recall your strengths, previous examples of successes, aspects of your character that you’ll need now, memories of lessons learned, or people who can help, etc. This type of bolstering question (and the subsequent answers) are good for the soul.
Remember, YOU are your greatest asset
I invite you to believe that there’s always a next step you can take. Sure, the path ahead may be painful, challenging, or complex. But along the way, you may gain some magic and beauty that you didn’t expect.
And with your journal by your side, at least you can ALWAYS rely on one thing.
Your voice. Your counsel. Your guidance. Your knowing.
So go get to writing!
P.S. Want to load up on more tips and tools to help you journal effectively? If so, check out the Writing Your Best Self podcast. News episodes go live weekly.