By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC
Time for your break from emotional regulation for this short post about the many forms of journaling. Some of you may have already heard the terms guided journaling, bullet journaling, dream journaling, and even art journaling. But what do they all mean? How are they all used? Well, this post is going to break down different styles of journaling in the hopes you will discover your ideal way to make journaling work in your life.
If you recall my last post about journaling, Mental Health Journaling: Why it Works, journaling is about tracking experiences we are having. In the sense of mental health, journaling helps us with a whole wide range of things to keep our mental health healthy and confident. A lot of people struggle with implementing journaling, mostly because they don’t know where to start. Some people struggle with journaling because they don’t know what to write. Even more people struggle with journaling because they don’t know how to put what they are experiencing into words. So let’s go over some common journaling styles.
For many people when they think about journaling, they think about a free writing journal. This is where you start with a blank page of paper, a pen, and write whatever comes into your head. These journals often take on a diary format where we rewrite down everything that happened in our day. Science is shown that free writing journaling before bed has been beneficial for people who struggle with insomnia. On the other hand, free writing can also create a lot of anxiety if you have no clue what to write about. People may even struggle to stay motivated to write in a free writing journal if they feel like they have nothing of substance to write about that day. If this is the type of journaling that keeps you from using this amazing coping skill, never fear! There are many other styles of journaling.
A very popular style of journaling right now is called bullet journaling. This style of journaling can be used for many types of journaling needs, for example a fitness journal, gardening journal, and yes, even a mental health Journal. Bullet journals, and mental health, are used to help track goals, reminders for taking medicine, identifying experiences that impact our mental health, and any other thing you deem to be important to maintaining your mental health. With bullet journaling, you are essentially creating a list–form to help keep things clear, objective, and organized. This style of journaling is excellent for those people with amped up or shut down anxieties (Don’t know what these are? Go to my post Amped Up or Shut Down: The Many Sides of Anxiety), people trying to maintain motivation, or even people who want to use their journal as a reflective process.
One of my favorite styles of journaling is gratitude journaling. This is where, typically at the end of your day, you sit down and reflect on the many different things that happened during your day that brought even a small sparkle of joy or happiness. By writing down a predefined number of daily gratitude, you are creating your own little feel-good neurotransmitter boost on those days that don’t seem to go as planned (like when you open your eyes in the morning and you already know it is going to be a bad day). The goal to making gratitude journaling work is to be as specific as possible for what made you feel grateful that day. I like to use the magic 5:1 ratio couple therapy godfathers John and Judy Gottman came up with. For every negative thing that happened in our day, writing down five things we were thankful or grateful for can help our brain:
- Repair the hippocampus
- Release serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin
- Challenge negative cognitive distortions and core beliefs
- Improve prefrontal cortex activity
Now, sometimes gratitude journaling can be overwhelming for those of us who struggle with self-esteem, unsafe social connections, or if we are being faced with some pretty significant stressors. Nevertheless, we know that by practicing gratitude journaling for four weeks our brain will start to improve. Do you know what that means?
Another favorite style of journaling is art journaling. I absolutely love using art journaling for my clients when they are struggling to just say how they’re feeling, let alone putting it all on paper. Art journaling allows us to use artistic abilities (even if we are sucky artists) to create a piece that resembles how we felt, how our day went, or even our hopes and dreams. What is cool about art journaling is that it’s open to interpretation. That means anybody looking at it can see it in a different way. It is no secret that art has a huge impact on our mental capabilities, including cognition, memory, and neurotransmitter release. Not only are you journaling your feelings, but you’re also engaging in a healthy leisure skill (Say What?!) Art journaling can happen with any medium, including ink, crayons, paint, clay, abstract art, photography, and everything in between.
The styles of journaling continue with what is known as guided journaling. This is where someone gives you pre-asked questions that you Journal about that spark reflection, growth, and pondering. Our course, Journaling with a Purpose! is a great example of guided journaling. Many people like guided journaling exercises as it gives them something to write about versus having to come up with it on their own. Many of the questions asked in the guided journaling process are designed to help with a specific issue, like depression, confidence, moving past perfectionism, anxiety, and much more!
Now, this is not every single way to Journal. These above examples are design to spark your interest, creativity, and understanding that journaling does not look the same for every person. I highly recommend to my clients that when they do start journaling, they play around with what journaling style best for them. Remember, you don’t know what will work unless you try it!
Still nervous about taking on journaling? Let me help you! I have created a program called Journaling with a Purpose! that can help you start the guided journaling process. This program includes:
- Weekly group coaching
- A private Facebook support group
- 31 days of guided journaling exercise
- Help with accountability to using this amazing skill
This course is a great way to enhance your mental health journey and have support while using this new skill, as well as a great way to start rewiring your brain!
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to learn more about the different types of journaling. It is exciting to share this information with you as this skill is such an important one. Hopefully after reading this post, you feel comfortable with starting to try different ways of journaling.