Avoid These Pitfalls of Journaling for Mental Health

Fraser deans
By Fraser Deans on Apr 30 2020

Not all journaling is equal. Some online commentators will have you believe journaling is a panacea. It’s not.

Journaling is packed with benefits. When done appropriately, it’s powerful. It gets you out of your own head. It gives your thoughts structure, clarity. It frees your mind to move on to preserve your mental health.

Many great minds have used journaling. It has stood the test of time for a reason. Famously Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius journaled, which you can now read in his renowned series Meditations. But his wise thoughts weren’t supposed to be shared, they were simply his musings. Anne Frank, whose family hid from the Nazis during the Dutch occupation, wrote to ‘Kitty’ in her diary. Over 3 volumes Anne coped with the harrowing events surrounding her. And the journals of Marie Curie, the pioneering scientist investigating radioactivity, are now kept in lead lined boxes to contain their radiation. Within their pages she discusses the trials and tribulations of experimentation.

Journal writings to pick you up

We are all subject to negative events. Times when something just didn’t go our way. Even emperors and scientists. And, rightfully so, our journals don’t resemble fairy tales. Some days just suck. A journal can be a great tool to analyse why something negative occurred and what it made us feel. The trap we must avoid is making the journal a cesspit of negativity. Try to frame negative events positively. Positive framing is often easier said than done. Try considering the event as a teacher – what can you learn from it? Or what does the occurrence of the event now allow you to do? E.g. free up time to spend with a friend. If positive framing doesn’t come easy, a journal is a great way to train your mind to think in this way.

Don’t: Ruminate on negative events
Do: Frame negative events positively

Write the journal after the event

As you become a regular journaler, be wary of how it affects your day-to-day. In a moment of peak experience, you may start to think: “How am I going to write about this?” From there you’ll leave the heat of the experience. The most awe-inspiring writing comes from an author's ability to capture the essence of an experience and to do that they were completely immersed.

Don’t: Let thinking about how best to record the moment detract from the moment itself
Do: Live in the present, enjoy the memory of the event later

A journal is for solutions, not blame

Journaling can make us aware of patterns within our lives. We realise common events that cause us negative emotions. Feelings we commonly view as negative are just as important as ones we see as positive. Perhaps more so. Negative emotions cause us to move away from the source. Upon recognising negative emotion we can choose what to do with it. We could blame the cause of the negative emotion or we would seek a solution to prevent a negative emotion persisting.

Don’t: Ruminate on negative emotions
Do: Connect common negative occurrences, then solve them

Journal Prompts for Mental Health

We have a bunch of useful journal prompts in Thyself. Such as: “Write an entry from the perspective of someone you admire.”, “What do you fear most about growing old?”, or “What's one thing you are avoiding?”. A good prompt will make you think differently. Thyself is the mental health toolkit for people who prioritise their mental health. Get to know yourself better with our collection of resources.

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