How to Journal for a Better Self

How to Journal, Document Life, and Write Yourself to Better Mental Health

How Do I Start Journaling?

Apart from breathwork, or maybe walking, journaling must be one of the cheapest self-help practices that exist. But is it naive to believe that you can simply write yourself to better mental health?

When I started journaling, it was a space for me to vent and complain about every possible downfall of the day. I didn’t hold back when detailing the extent of how people had wronged me, or to that end, how the world was certainly ending. I didn’t realise I was conveniently reinforcing my own negative cognitive biases about my life, writing my thoughts as concretely as if they were facts. 

Recently, my journaling style has become more of a logical process of identifying problematic or stagnant areas of life and finding a subsequent resolution to them. This has been a game-changer. Now, I still document all thoughts and feelings, but it’s my response to them that has transformed – both while journaling and in daily life. 

It’s important to document the entire spectrum of feelings, rather than just frustration, anxiety, and anger. 

When is the Best Time to Journal?

The practice of ‘Morning Pages’ was coined by artist Julia Cameron to mean just that: three pages written in the morning. She advocated this ritual practice, as one that doesn’t appear creative at first but intends to make space for documenting consciousness. This results in the development of new ideas and awakenings. 

Three pages of long-form writing are comparable to the thought-catching technique I mentioned earlier in the blog. Essentially, this process of tracking thoughts is incredibly beneficial for creating a renewed awareness of exactly what your internal monologue is saying. 

Granted, I have never made it to the third page. By the second page, I have most likely convinced myself that I have no more thoughts left to write about, which is certainly not true. However, the practice in itself is highly stimulating and certainly sets the tone for renewal at the start of the day. 

One of my favourite content creators, Ali Abdaal, recoins ‘Morning Pages’ as his ‘Brain dump’. For some reason, this transforms journaling from something previously archaic into a genuine practice where we can speak our truth. 

As a writer, it also feels essential to clean out any toxic waste piling up in my mental space, before I even attempt to start the day. Residual angst or harboured grudges tend to directly impact my writing style and even how productive in the day. 

I consider myself a morning person – whatever stereotypes of me that evokes, I write better in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not part of the 5 am club but, for me, it makes sense to wake up and almost immediately set intentions for the day. 

However, there seems to be no hard and fast rule, a daily journal works best when it is written, no matter the time. 

How Do I Write a Journal?

In my mind, journaling has always been such a personal thing, which leads me to believe that advising someone how to write one is somewhat counter-intuitive. 

At the same time, receiving guidance on how to structure my writing and thoughts has always been beneficial for me, as I’m sure it will be for you. 

I’ve found that separating your thoughts into three categories can be highly effective:

  • Thoughts: space for documenting your conscious thought-processing – any worries, anxiety, shame, guilt, joy, elation, can all be documented here. 
  • Intentions: once the entire spectrum of your thoughts have been released onto the page, then you can start to frame your focus on the day ahead. You might start to ask: what do I want to achieve today? What can I do for myself today? What should I prioritise today? 
  • Manifestations: once you’ve covered these short-term intentions, it’s good to remember your overall life goals that sometimes get lost in the daily grind. 

Take-aways

I hope you enjoyed this post and as always, thank you for visiting this blog page. 

As you can see, journaling is one of the most accessible methods of self-help that exist. Maybe as a writer, I am biased but I think there is something truly powerful in documenting consciousness and thoughts as they enter our mental landscape. 

Whether you explore this with a talking journal or alternative methods not suggested in this post, the ultimate goal is to reach a sense of heightened awareness. This means checking in with yourself regularly and building a stable foundation to operate from in daily life. 

Please comment, like and subscribe for more content about self-help and developing conscious awareness. 

Systems That Keep me From Spiralling – Wellbeing Week Edition

Spiralling – The act of continuously feeding into irrational and illogical thoughts, that do not – in any way – serve us.

Picture this:

Sweating, heart palpitation; disorientation, muscle tension; irregular breathing: a list you might rightly identify as the body’s instinctual reaction to danger. Otherwise known as the fight or flight response.

So, you can imagine the kind of confusion I felt when I experienced this reaction walking through my school corridors, sitting in Spanish classes, or even when trying to sleep. Instinctually, one might actively start to avoid situations causing such an adverse reaction, and so, I did.

I negotiated more time off school, disappeared from Spanish class, and even stopped sleeping properly. But clearly, avoidance was not going to tackle the root of my problem.

After some reflection, it seemed that I was having this inflammatory reaction to life itself. 

What to do?

What I Talk About When I Talk About Mental Health

Oftentimes, we talk about acceptance of mental health, neurodiversity and dismantling the stigma that surrounds it. But we don’t necessarily admit the sheer amount of work that we must perform on ourselves to function at peak mental health. 

Throughout the past year, this pandemic really catapulted us all into a reality where optimal health is a true priviledge. 

I’d like to share some genuine systems that I use every day, to not only stop me from spiralling but allow me to function as a fulfilled human being.

#1 Thought Catching 

We can envision “thought catching” through two concepts: the thinker  and the observer

Close your eyes, and tune into your thoughts for a second – what can you hear?

If you streamed your flow of consciousness on Spotify, it might sound a little like this: “Did I lock the back door? I should probably check – this is a pretty safe area though, nothing would happen. But what if it does? Better safe than sorry, right?”

Playing back every thought that popped into our head in the last hour, would likely result in a highly anti-climactic experience. 

So, how come we attach such great meaning to our thoughts, when they are so fleeting? 

Instead of holding onto them, internalizing them, believing they are intrinsic parts of ourselves, we must become critical observers of them. 

As radical as it seems, I prefer to refer to myself and my mind as We rather than I. I am the thinker of the thought, and the observer of its existence. 

At first, the thought appears: “I don’t deserve my success”, then the observer responds with a rationalising behaviour: “I have worked hard for my success, I am worthy of being here; I accept every success and failure that arrives”.

This was a technique I developed through meditation: watching thoughts pass through my consciousness and being unafraid to criticise my often wayward, child-like, and misguided ego.

So, while you cannot choose your next thought, you can be selective about the ones you listen to.

#2 Letting Go of Narratives That No Longer Serve You

While medication is a standard response to mental health, I think there is also something to be said for Asian philosophies like Taoism that teach us the things we have forgotten in Western society. 

Notably, Lao Tzu uses the imagery of a simple cooking pot to suggest that we must not hoard our thoughts as if they were old records, but let go of those that no longer serve us. 

Lao Tzu’s empty pot

He says: “the usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness”. In essence, through cleansing ourselves of our past narratives, we allow ourselves to become who we actually are. 

After my first session of yoga, I just laid down in Shavasana (the final pose) and cried. I’m sure my family thought something dubious was going on – I don’t blame them.

I was undergoing such a drastic change in my mind, arriving at this idea that: we waste such vast amounts of energy holding on to stuff. I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before but: let them [your thoughts, worries, precocupations] go. 

What a relief. 

With further yoga sessions via the Downdog app, I integrated this outlet for anxiety into my day, creating a daily system to deal with built-up stress.

I would highly recommend this practice since there are so many platforms that guide you – even with little to no experience. I’m sure you’ve heard of her, but Yoga with Adriene is a favourite of mine when it comes to online yoga sessions.

#3 “Hell Yes, or No”

As an adult like myself at the ripe old age of 22, we must be selective about how we spend our time. 

Maybe you’ve seen the film “Yes Man” with Jim Carey. As the title suggests, he transforms from a hermit, into a man that says “yes” to anything and everything for a year. As you can imagine, this presents fantastic opportunities and dire consequences for him. 

Saying yes to every opportunity, was definitely a strategy that I applied to my own life as I navigated my university years. But thanks to Florence Given, I read up on the concept of boundaries that we can employ at an emotional, personal, and professional level.

You can say “no”, and not owe anyone an explanation. You own all of your time.  

We are entitled, and owe it to ourselves, to form boundaries between friends, jobs, screens, pets, and even our family. While going with the flow is excellent, the boundaries that you write on the tapestry of your life, ensure that you have a say in the flow.

#4 Doing Things You Enjoy, Not Just Things To Relax

While it’s important to recognise and identify our mental health needs, I do think we must avoid the temptation to reorganise our lives around that sole fact.

In my case, I subconsciously avoided any activity that might function as a potential trigger of my anxiety. To the point where I refused an invitation to a good friend’s party that was happening just across the road from me.

What a bummer.

After washing off the stress of the day, it can be tempting to fill our free time passively consuming TV shows or flicking social media. And while these things are certainly less anxiety-inducing than bungee jumping, for example, that doesn’t mean there is a unanimous method of relaxation.

You know the drill: walking, playing sport, reading, writing, playing an instrument are all great alternatives to how we traditionally conceptualise relaxing.

In fact, I am sure there is nothing more stress-inducing than trying really hard to relax. Often, when we are physically mobile, our mental attention returns to the body rather than the thinking mind, which effortlessly calms us with added enjoyment.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for making it this far. 

I hope you enjoyed this brief summary of my learnings about mental health and preventative coping mechanism. I compiled these systems from a year-long period of journaling and reflecting on the psyche and the mind. 

I would love to know what you think in the comments below!

As always, take care and look after yourselves.

 

It Took a Pandemic: 5 Truths Realised During Lock-down

The bottom line is: 

There is nothing like a global pandemic to shake up your sense of reality – a time, I am sure, we are all desperate to forget. But before you press ‘delete’ on the events of the past 15 months, surely there must be something positive arising from such a monumental experience?

Change

The only constant of the past year and a half. 

I am sure that my life was utter chaos before any pandemic had the chance to change the meaning of that word. Although, somehow I felt in control of it – ordered chaos you might say. Certainly, I found some kind of security in the narratives I reinforced about myself: a socialite, spontaneous, profound individual. But when the first Lockdown began, there was only one identity that I could uphold for two months straight. Anxiety. 

My bodily reaction to the global transformation underway was: sweating, heart palpitations, insomnia, irritability, and agoraphobia (the fear of entering public spaces or leaving the home). By the time we reached May, my anxiety only just began to stabilise, but only through lengthy yoga sessions, mediations, intentional breathing, and exercise, was this possible. 

The only thing you can really control is evolution of your consciousness

Hitomi Mochizuki, Spiritual Lessons I Would Pay To Learn Sooner

You can imagine how pivotal it must have been to realise that actually, you can simply let go of this anxiety if you dedicate significant time to this healing process. You can let go of narratives and identities that no longer serve you to make space for who you actually are. You can find refuge in simply being. As wonderfully expressed by Hitomi Mochizuki: “the only thing you can really control is the evolution of your consciousness”. 

It has taken a pandemic to realise we can handle change as we have done so many times before.

Making Space & Art

During the pandemic, I realised one of my lifelong goals: to write a book. No idea on the subject matter but a book nonetheless.  Even in a pandemic, I set the bar high in regard to creativity and success. A great way to hinder exactly what I was trying to cultivate. Excuses flowed: I’m not an expert, I didn’t study English at university, I have little to no writing experiences, I am a complete beginner, everyone will think I’m stupid – a downward spiral. 

I really gave myself no space at all to actually make the art. Imposter syndrome threatens to haunt us with an internal devaluing of ourselves and our deserving achievements. We start to wonder whether it was our talent or simply luck and nepotism that earned us our place in the world. As a result of this, the most liberating piece of advice was that, actually, no one cares. Your family, friends, and your outlandish neighbour are not simply waiting to witness your failures with popcorn in hand. They are most likely focused on their own relative preoccupations. 

So, make bad art rather than none at all.

An Abundance of Time

What is time? 

One of the frequent existentialist questions I have asked myself during the pandemic. Some might view the long hours spent staring out of their bedroom window as wasted time. I beg to differ. Only in this time did I realise that actually aside from the basic life processes: eating, sleeping, working, there is a surplus of time to be spent on doing your own “thing”.

We all played the piano, danced, or practised a certain sport at some point in life but undoubtedly gave it up to pursue something seemingly more valuable. During the pandemic, I made a habit of practising yoga for 30 minutes a day and learning about meditation. A year later, I can now say with absolute certainty that it is the sole reason that anxiety no longer affects me to the same extent as it did before. It is quite amusing that we continued to obsess over productivity or our lack thereof, even during a global pandemic. 

It has taken a pandemic to realise there is always time.

Social Energy

All my life, I was an extrovert. Compelled to vibrant social situations, parties, events, pubs, and the like, I found value in my interaction with others. What’s more, I viewed learning as a social process. So, every social encounter became an opportunity to discover and envision others and myself through a different lens. Not to say I was wrong, but perhaps I miscalculated the sheer amount of energy exerted by these interactions – no wonder I took so many naps at university. 

I find there is nothing more fulfilling than an insightful discussion about humanity. However, there were certainly times where my internal dialogue became clouded by the polyvocality of other’s wonderous and grandiose ideas. Really it was my refusal to spend valuable time alone to reflect on what I actually thought and believed. 

It has taken a pandemic to realise we can make space for our minds.

Normal

There is no doubt about it, Britons want to return to normality. We felt an unspoken but assured sense of momentum towards a so-called normal life, with each progressive tightening or loosening of restrictions in the UK. Now I can only speak from personal experience but along the rollercoaster of changing Covid policies, I started to wonder what state of normality we were heading towards. Life pre-Covid was lively and exciting, but also misguided, lacking in direction and definitive goals. 

Rather than promptly returning to this, isolation and an abundance of time encouraged me to think about the necessities of life that I wanted to return to. For me, they were incredibly simple. Drinking coffee inside Costa, rather than on a bench in the rain. Going for a long drive with a friend – not a walk, anything but another walk. Truly, the pandemic placed life in a sieve and elevated the most important human experiences to the highest level. And so, I contemplated this “new normal” in my head.

It has taken a pandemic to realise that the world needs my full attention – nothing less.