Structured Journaling for Health

By Megan

Battling an eating disorder as well as general anxiety has been difficult through the winter months. I’m not ashamed to admit that I needed professional help to get myself on the right path but I was also willing to try any method to help myself feel better.

I’ve always been a bit of a sceptic when it comes to journaling and the whole idea of writing down my gratitude. What is the point of physically writing down the thoughts in my head?

Journaling is ‘simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly’. It was recommended to me that I give journaling a go as a form of self care so I thought I would give it a shot and see if it really made a difference.

I was gifted a beautiful Wellness Journal for Christmas that had a double page spread to fill out each day. I set out to write in my journal as often as I could in order to test whether journaling and writing down my gratitude could really improve my mental health.

My journal begins with a space for my daily intentions so I usually fill this out the night before. This helps me plan my day, meaning I start my day on a positive and productive note. My aims and goals are clearly set out in writing and it is satisfying to be able to physically tick off and cross out my tasks once they’re complete. It’s safe to say that this section has really kept my mind focused rather than allowing myself to float through each day in a cloud of anxiety and negative thoughts.

At the end of each day I move back to my journal to complete the rest of the double page spread. I fill out the first page which covers how much I slept the night before, the quality of my sleep, what meals I’ve eaten during the day, how much water I’ve drank and the physical activity I did in the day. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, this is particularly helpful to keep me on track. I can reflect on what worked throughout the day and what made me feel good. Listing down these things allows me to keep focused on my recovery and prioritise the best things for my body.

The next section I complete is a list of self care activities. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I am terrible at looking after myself and allowing myself to relax so this has been really helpful to hold myself accountable and reflect on whether I’m doing enough to care for my mind and body. Even if it’s just something as simple as watching tv with my mum or painting my nails, listing down these activities helps me realise how crucial they are to aiding my mental health after a tough day.

I then move onto the second page. Here I write down what went well in my day. This has really been amazing for my mental health and I’ve grown to love filling this out. It’s a space where I can be proud of myself and my achievements even if it’s just something as simple as making my bed and cleaning my room which, if you struggle with your mental health, you will know is a huge achievement on a bad day! Sometimes writing a list of what I’m proud of makes me realise that my day, perhaps, wasn’t as bad as I first thought and that I did, in fact, achieve quite a lot even if my mental health wasn’t the best that day- which is something else to be proud of!

The biggest section that I complete is a dotted blank space for thoughts and feelings. I absolutely adore the design of this section- the dotted page allows for doodles, big fonts, small fonts, literally anything that could possibly flow from your mind and out through your pen. I’ve found this exercise so freeing; I can write down whatever I’m feeling in whatever way I desire. As cheesy as it sounds, I often find that I’m holding in feelings that I didn’t even know about. Suddenly they’re there on the page and out of my subconscious and it’s as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Sometimes I feel like I need to scribble all over the page and other days I draw myself a pretty flower; this creative space has been essential in my night time routine, allowing me to let go of whatever I’ve felt that day.

The only downside to this section is that sometimes it brings up negative feelings that I’ve felt throughout the day. While it’s useful to write these things down and set the thoughts free, it can often leave me feeling drained and a bit down. I finish my journal on the final section: what I’m thankful for. This space is only a couple of lines but it’s the perfect final activity to refocus my mind on what I’m grateful for. Whether it be friends, family, my dog, the weather or a yummy pudding I’ve just eaten; this space allows me to appreciate all the good things in my life and be thankful for my support system.

An article written by the University Of Rochester Medical Centre reported that journaling helps control symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression by:

  • Helping you prioritise problems, fears, and concerns that arise in your day
  • Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognise triggers and learn techniques to control or cope with them, minimising their impact on your day
  • Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying unhelpful thoughts and behaviours

I started journaling at the beginning of this year and to be perfectly honest I thought I would’ve given up after a week. Adding in this self care exercise has truly impacted my mental health in the best way. A simple reflection on my day can instantly turn my mood around and leave me feeling grateful and optimistic. I’d highly recommend starting to journal if you struggle with your mental health or even if you just feel like you want to slow the pace of life down and appreciate the little things each day!

21 Feb 2022

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website:

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