The Benefits of Journaling for Depression

June 30

Oof. Depression is still a challenging topic for people to discuss and be open about, but it is important; it is nothing to feel shame about. I have had depression on and off for many years, so I want to talk about the benefits of journaling for depression.

The Benefits of Journaling for Depression

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It is so important to be open about our mental health so we can treat ourselves and others kindly. We all go through our own struggles, no matter who we are. If you have suffered from depression, I know it's tough. But well done on reading this and musing about how possibly using a journal might help you

Talk to your GP, and get those meds if that's what you need. Then why not take some time for yourself and write down what is getting you down in a cathartic exercise. It can help you challenge those limiting and untrue thoughts, and it can be a release that we didn't know we could get from simply writing our thoughts down and getting them out of our minds. 

Depression can't be cured, but we can try and help to lessen and limit the effects we get from it physically, mentally and emotionally. Taking time to journal for depression can help give you an outlet and a way to learn how to apply coping mechanisms and positive reflection to your life. Let's get into it.

Why should I Journal for Depression?

Why? Because you're worth spending the time on to dig into what makes you feel this way. Getting your thoughts out there can help identify triggers, show patterns, and enable you to think of ideas that might help you feel better so you can apply new ideas to your life.

Some people feel better when they go out for a walk in Nature or ground themselves by touching a tree. Others enjoy going for a coffee, reading a book, or gaming. If you've not spent the time to get to know yourself and what might help you, now is the time. 

The words ' self-improvement' might sound hard and idealistic if you feel very low, but let's think about that. You're journaling to help improve how you feel about yourself. That's it. You want to think about what is making you sad, unhappy, or low and think of positive things you can do to help counteract it. As you pay more attention to your emotions, rather than just riding their wave, you better understand yourself. When you understand yourself more, it is easier to know how to help yourself, and that is, in essence, what we are aiming for. 

Why should you bother? Because you're worth it. 

The Benefits of Journaling for Depression

Challenge your thoughts By Journaling

When we take time to write out our feelings, we can put some space between us and the emotion, and it's the emotion that is getting to us when we are depressed. 

By writing down your feelings and thoughts - true or untrue - we can then challenge them from a different perspective. If you feel that no one likes you, write that down. Then, write down five people you can text, call or visit easily. Think about it. Those feelings that "no one likes you" are hopefully a bit less invasive now. You've taken the time to challenge a false thought and show your mind that you have people you could talk to who consider you a friend. By challenging a limiting belief, you can challenge your mind and make it think happier, more positive thoughts

Take note of cycles and patterns

A lot of us are affected by the Moon. Right?! Who knew! 

The next time you are feeling low, look at what is going on in your life. Is it the season? Is it a time of day? Is it a specific time of the month? Is it the Moon? 

I have a friend whose father is sensitive to the lunar cycle - his moods become terse, he isn't pleasant to be around, and he used to get frustrated that he was frustrated for no reason. One day, it clicked that he was constantly frustrated at the time of a new moon. Maybe it's the same for you? Perhaps not, but by writing things down and seeing them on paper can give us the clarity to see patterns we might miss when deep in our emotions.

Make a note of your triggers in your journal.

It can often be quite challenging to pinpoint what is making you feel a certain way if a lot is happening; feelings can influence other emotions and reactions to the world around you. Sometimes, it's clear - we had a fight, we feel upset. But how do you express why you feel melancholy? It's hard! 

Writing out the situations when you feel a specific strong emotion can help you identify these triggers more, and the more you become aware of them, the more steps you can take to change the situation and your reaction to it.

Becoming more self-aware of your depression through journal writing

This can be a hard one because we are focusing on YOU. We need to be brave, turn the looking glass onto ourselves, and look for our reactions, emotions and triggers. 

By taking the time to delve into yourself and your thoughts, feelings and reactions, you can illuminate what you might need to work on or good things you do already that you can build on. Unfortunately, no one can do this for us - we can get help to do it from talking therapies, families, and friends, but at the crux of it is you. The more self-aware you are, the better you can demonstrate yourself, articulate your thoughts and feelings and improve your mental health by taking action to help yourself. 

You can use your journal to document your full months, rather than just the days you feel overwhelmed, to help notice any patterns that might relate to your depression and feelings. 

Take time to reflect on your daily Journal entries.

If you can, taking some time at the end of the day to reflect on your thoughts from the day can help identify triggers which led to a particular reaction. 

Perhaps a colleague was super annoying, which ripple effect on the rest of your day? Maybe you felt out of control in a social situation and can see that it may have been the sound/people/environment that caused a reaction?

By reflecting on what you have experienced, you can then take steps to reduce your triggers or find coping methods if you have to work with that annoying co-worker or need to be in a loud environment.

Record how your reactions made you feel

Not every reaction is adverse - you can also put your positive responses here! 

By noting how we felt at the time, and maybe even colour coding this, we can see what made us feel good, sad, or overwhelmed. Again, identify any patterns and causes that led to this. The great thing is whilst this will help determine how we can improve our low moods, it can also show us what made us happy, so we know to do more of it! 

Speaking of which ...

Remember all the good things that have happened in your life.

Reaaaaally, think about it. Think of the five most important/vivid times you were happy and genuinely joyful. Write down everything you can remember about those times... what was the weather? Where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing, wearing, hearing, smelling, seeing?

Take time to connect with your happy memories and feel a sense of joy that you can have more times like this when you are feeling low. If negative thoughts creep in when doing this, challenge them! Unpack the box of your thoughts and challenge them to see the happiness in this memory. For example- if you are sad you no longer have a relationship with someone now from your memories, be happy you got to have one with them and all the good they brought to your life. Feel satisfied for having known them and the joy you brought each other. Feel happy that you will be able to foster a new relationship with new people in the future, to keep experiencing life.

The Benefits of Journaling for Depression

Sit with how you feel; really connect with it.

Now, this is a toughie. No one likes to sit down and properly delve into what we are feeling and put words to the emotions. However... it's truly helpful.

If you take time to sit with how you feel and process, challenge and think about these thoughts, you will likely find how to move through this emotion or feel positive.

Use your journal as a tool to let the feelings and emotions flow out of you, creating space in your mind for you to process what comes out.

When I do this, I surprise myself at what I write down when I allow myself the time and freedom just to write. I've often uncovered root causes of why I'm feeling down or low, and it tends not to be why or what my conscious mind thought it was! It's pretty freeing to sit with your feelings, even though it can sound scary. When you look at what was making you feel the way you feel, you can see it from a different angle and allow yourself to process that emotion rather than suppressing it, and we all know that bottling things up isn't the best way to deal with our feels!

Gratitude - what are you grateful for?

A wonderfully simple way of lifting your mood is to think about what you might be grateful for. 

Depression can be all-consuming, so trying to think of all the good things in your world can give you a mental break away from the low mood, help boost and uplift your spirit, and hopefully give you a few things that are good to think of.

Straightforward things are the way to start. Think - do you have more than one pair of shoes? Amazing! Are you reading this article on a phone or electronic device that you have charged with electricity? Incredible! Do you have access to a shower and running water to maintain good hygiene and healthy teeth? Fantastic! 

Gratitude doesn't have to be all about the big things we are struggling to see - it can be as simple as being grateful for today and having time to read this, reflect and take care of yourself. Once you start to feel gratitude for the small things, you will also feel gratitude for the big stuff. You might even feel grateful for being able to challenge your depression and come up with creative ways to lift your mood, find ways to help you cope, or ask for help. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Be kind and patient with yourself while journaling for depression.

You've already taken a massive step by thinking of something to do that will help you feel better. Don't be hard on yourself if there are days when you can't face journaling or when you can't find anything positive to talk about. Trying and keep your practice going. The more you do it, the more you will feel like using this time for yourself, and you will be able to find the good that happens in your day if you keep at it.

I like to think of looking after my Mental Health in the same way as going to the gym. You might start with the tiniest chicken legs or spaghetti arms, to begin with, but the more you go and the more time and energy you put into it, the more results you will see. 

It is simple science. So if we apply that thinking... the more time we exercise our mind, the stronger it gets. 

As Newton said: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

So, if your action is to start going to the Mind Gym, your equal action is feeling better, and your opposite action is letting go of feeling as bad as you have been. The more you do it, the better you feel.

The Benefits of Journaling for Depression

Boosting those little things called Endorphins

Endorphins are released when we exercise and have a similar effect to morphine on the brain. How cool is that?! Nature's pain killer (when safe) can be achieved by going for a walk, bike ride, or gardening.

Some people - and this is not a bad thing - get put off by the word 'exercise' as it conjures intimidating images of being in the gym, around lots of people and chaos, and having to do weights and running and specific exercises and more and more and more. But that is what society tells us exercise is and how we must do it, not what we might enjoy! (You also might be a gym rat reading this, and that's fine, too!)

Exercise for you might be as simple as vacuuming. It might be walking the dog. It might be playing dance party with the kids on Wii. It could be roller skating. Or gardening. Or horse riding, rock climbing, or whatever makes you move your body more to get the energy flowing through you. The more we move, the less stagnant the energy in our bodies is. Even if it's desk dancing and jiggling a little bit... that's better than nothing.

By getting some exercise, we get a dose of the feel-goods we can make ourselves. It has been proven and is known to improve your sleep, help reduce anxiety and help with depression. I know it might seem challenging if you are deep in your depression to find the motivation to exercise, but challenge yourself - can you go outside for 10 minutes to feel a bit better?

Make time for exercise, and plan it in your journal! 

If we are taking time to journal, write, and reflect to help ourselves and our depression, why not add a section for planning exercise or fun activities that hide that they are exercise?!

You can add this as an item on your 'to-do' list and then get IMMENSE satisfaction when you cross/tick it off, knowing that you did something amazing for yourself and your body that day.

If you're a morning person, maybe a little jaunt in the morning before work, or if you are a night owl, after the day's hustle is done. If you are a midday pigeon, can you work a way to fit in a little something during lunch?

Tips for journaling with depression

We all know that depression takes a lot of the motivation and fun from doing tasks. The most crucial thing to try and do is to commit to trying to journal, even if it's only 10 minutes. 

You need to make a conscious choice to give time to this practice for you. Research into cognitive therapies has shown that keeping a log and tracking your emotional responses to triggers and situations helps provide an insight into you and how you feel and react. Once we know this, we can then work on action plans to help ourselves overcome these reactions, be they physical or emotional.

Craft out 10 minutes a day to just writing. Write about why you're happy, sad, angry, or anything in between. There isn't going to be a 'right' time to start this practice, so just pick up a pen, make a cup of tea and start. Free yourself from judgement for what might come out. Just let yourself express your thoughts and feelings.

By journaling for depression, you can likely see patterns or triggers that you might not have noticed, having had internalised everything. Either way, take the time to help yourself heal and feel better.

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