Natalie Roberts recommends journaling as a tool to lift depression, based on her own experiences.
Depression can be confusing. Thoughts become jumbled and making sense of life and situations you find yourself in can be overwhelming. When your mind starts to race it can be scary and upsetting. Trying to understand it all can be difficult. This is when writing and journaling can help.
Getting the thoughts out of your mind and onto paper can be freeing. Don’t worry if you are not good at writing. The journal is for your eyes only, unless you decide to share it with someone. Spelling isn’t important but releasing your thoughts onto the paper is.
Talking therapy is also a good tool but it is usually edited up to a point, for fear of embarrassment and rejection. Writing your thoughts and emotions down unedited is a great way to understand how you are feeling, without fear of judgment or ridicule.
Journaling allows you to be you and enables you to express yourself in the rawest form.
There are some other great reasons why you should start journaling and, here are a few:
Getting to know yourself
How many of us really know ourselves in the true sense? You may be surprised what you learn about yourself when you start writing. Many people find out they are more resilient than they thought. Some realise they are highly sensitive and others may find that they complain a lot rather than showing gratitude. However, in the midst of depression complaining and feeling sorry for yourself is common and those feelings are hard to control. Seeing it all written down may be the realisation you need whether you find out something positive or negative about yourself. It could be the trigger that helps you change your behaviour.
If you are writing in a journal on a regular basis you should soon see a pattern emerge. Looking back on particularly bad days, you may find you have the same triggers or situations that make you feel worse about yourself. Monitoring your symptoms can be extremely useful for recovery.
Things you can write about include:
- Your symptoms
- Time of day your mood changed
- Stress factors that may have contributed to the mood change
- Severity of your symptoms
- What relieved these symptoms if anything.
Tracking in this way can show you what to avoid or change and can also be good for showing you what calms you down and relieves your symptoms. It may not be so easy to see or realise without writing them down.
Releasing your problems and concerns onto the page can also help you come up with solutions. Writing gives you time to think through your problems. Writing them down and being able to see them can help you prioritise and decide which problem to tackle first.
You could write down:
- What is your problem?
- Why is this problem bothering you in particular? Be in-depth about the reasons it is upsetting you or making you worry.
- Is there a particular person that is effecting how you feel?
You can then start to think about and write down possible solutions to your problems. What steps do you need to take and can anyone help you? You may also identify future problems that might occur and you can now prevent them from happening. Finally make a plan on how you will achieve what you need to do and start to work on sorting out the problem.
How to Start Journaling
The first thing you need to think about is the purpose of your journal. When you know the purpose then you can choose how and when to journal. If you are fed up of negativity, then a gratitude journal may be for you. If you are craving creativity then consider releasing your feelings through an art journal.
Types of Journals
There are many different ways to journal, you just need to choose the best for you.
Daily Journal – This is like a diary. You write in it daily or weekly if you are pushed for time. It is a record of your day/week. Who did you see? What connections did you make? What went well and what didn’t go well and so on. Write about how your day/week went and the thoughts and feelings you had.
Problem Solving Journal – This journal is solely to record your problems and finding ways to solve them in a productive and positive way. It’s not specifically for day-to-day. You can write in it whenever a problem pops up that you think is worsening your depression.
Art Journal – In here you express your thoughts and feelings through drawing, painting, colouring or any other art medium to suit you. You can do it daily, weekly or whenever you feel you need to. Art in itself has lots of therapeutic properties. You may notice a pattern to your drawing or the colours you chose may express your feelings at the time. Expression though art is an excellent way to get to know yourself and can be a great emotional release. Concentrating on the canvas can distract you from the real world for a short time. We all need some sort of getaway and solace from time to time. Art journaling is also a great alternative to writing, if that’s not your thing.
Gratitude Journal – This is really good for trying to control negative feelings. Instead of dwelling on the bad you are focusing on the good. Every day you write what you are grateful for that day and what went well. An attitude of gratitude can go a long way in lifting your mood. No matter how you feel or how bad your day has been there is always something to be grateful for no matter how small it may be.
Once you have decided which type of journaling suits you best (see panel), it’s time to get started. You may even choose to combine journals, which is absolutely fine. Looking at blank pages can be really daunting, but don’t let it overwhelm you.
Make sure you pick a journal to suit your needs. If you are going to do the art journal then make sure you pick a notebook that doesn’t have any bleed through the paper. f you are going to write in a journal daily, then you may want to pick one with quite a few pages, compared to a journal you are going to write in weekly.
Now just write or draw. Easier said than done I hear you say, but don’t overthink it. None of it needs to be in any order. You can date the pages if you feel you want to. Then just write or draw whatever comes into your head first.
If you are struggling to write a paragraph, then try a mind map or a brain dump, where you literally just write single words or single paragraph of whatever comes into your mind first.
The same can be done with art. If you are struggling, then just doodle for a while and you may find images flood into your head quickly and consistently. You then need to decide on a routine for journaling. You need to make it a priority if you want to use it as a therapeutic tool.
Consistency is key. You can write, daily, weekly or monthly but the most important part is you keep it up. Set time aside in your schedule specifically for journaling. Don’t worry if you are short of time, you don’t need to write or draw a lot each time. A few sentences or a quick sketch will do. Something is better than nothing.
Find a quiet time away from distractions so your flow isn’t interrupted. Time alone is also great for recharging, even if it is only for a short time.Most of all just try and learn and grow from the experience. Ultimately it should be a positive activity then helps you sort through your muddled brain and helps you find clarity.
You should start to see some life changing results within a few months, if not a few weeks of journaling. Free your emotions and start to heal from within. It will also give you a record to look back on in years to come and you will see how far you have come and you will see how you have changed.
Find out more: Here are some great books for unleashing creativity and using journaling as a mental health tool. There is also one that may help you to understand yourself better if you are a highly sensitive person and you think this contributes to your depression:
Doreen Virtue: The Courage to be Creative
Katie Dalebout: Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling
Heidi Sawyer: Highly Sensitive People
Elizabeth Gilbert: Big Magic
Natalie Roberts is a Freelance Writer, Author & Blogger. She specialises in health and social care and wellbeing writing. Natalie also journals through depression daily.