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Today's world is obsessed with health. With such a strong push for healthy living, organic foods, and the growing popularity of a granola lifestyle, we often forget the mounting pressure and tension that can come with such high goals.
Mental health is arguably the most important aspect of any individual's health journey. While this might not get the press that rock-hard abs or high athleticism may garner, the simple truth is that without mental health, all of that is worth very little. It means nothing to achieve your “goals” if you feel like you can never enjoy them due to sustained tension and stress.
However, mental health should never come at the cost of living an active, physically healthy lifestyle. Instead, they should go hand in hand. The healthy, active lifestyle flowing out of a place of strong mental health should create a sustainable, organic ecosystem that can only benefit you as you grow.
But where should you start with mental health, and how can you know what steps to take? This isn’t as easy as Googling a quick ab routine on your way to the gym, or pulling up a recipe as you start thinking about what to cook for dinner.
Mental health is a deeply personal, very individualized, long-term journey.
Because of that, we suggest that you start to use a journal to document your journey as you embark on the path of pursuing your best mental health.
Let's talk about some of the benefits of using a mental health journal and how you can start one.
First, let's get this out of the way — does it work? There is absolutely nothing wrong with being results-driven here.
While a mental health journal shouldn’t be your sole go-to solution or a replacement for other treatments, it is a long-term solution that can help you work through a lot. You are the only one who knows what level of mental health assessment you may need, whether that’s talking to a mental health professional to figure out what might be causing you so much stress, or getting into therapy for the first time.
No matter where you start, a mental health journal serves to help you document your progress, and this makes it a good practice for all people. Multiple studies have been conducted that have shown the positive benefits of keeping a mental health journal, so you can rest assured knowing that journaling can really bring tangible results.
But the real question is, what can you expect out of your mental health journal? Because let's be honest about this up front: You’ll get as much out of your mental health journal as you put into it. This means there is a significant commitment to this tool if you want to see maximum results. Let's look at some things a mental health journal can do for you.
The most obvious thing a mental health journal will help you do is keep a road map of where you have been. This is crucially important for several reasons. Not only for the obvious reasons of tracking the progress you’ve made, but it develops material that can go back and reference to encourage you to keep moving forward and making new progress.
When it comes to something as big as mental health, it is so easy for one day to turn into a week, and then a month, and if you're not careful, it can feel like you’ve spent a lot of time not moving. This is a normal feeling and can cause you to experience feelings of overwhelm.
However, by tracking your progress, you can go back and see where you have been and prove to yourself that you are moving forward, even if it might not quite feel like it. This will help you to develop more tender self-love and affirmation as you document movement in your journey.
Most journeys involve mistakes, and even the best plans don’t always go as planned. These mistakes, setbacks, and obstacles are crucially important for you to learn from. Documenting these will give you important insights on how you can take those experiences and use them to grow and develop.
If you went to a place in your journey that didn’t help you achieve your goals and move you toward better mental health, it is a great thing to document that place and remind yourself not to return.
Secondly, if you get to a place where you feel stuck, road blocked, or maybe even like you took steps backward, looking back over similar obstacles you overcame will prove an invaluable resource to keep moving forward.
The truth is, you will overcome, and documenting these episodes in your journey will help to support the faith you have in yourself to achieve your mental health goals.
Now that we have some preliminary knowledge for why a mental health journal is important and how it can work, let's look at how you actually start one!
Once you have made the decision to begin your mental health journal, the second most important decision you must set is your expectation for tracking your progress. While it is encouraged to write in a journal every day, doing it at any regular consistency is important as you get started.
In other words, you need to set goals you can achieve! Yes, you won't be at the finish line right off the bat — this is long-term progress — but you should start off with goals that you know are realistic to you.
By implementing positive affirmations when you successfully journal, take time for yourself, or work toward a goal you’ve journaled about, you’ll only grow stronger and your goals will only continue to progress.
So whether you decide on a daily journal entry or even just a weekly entry, make sure it’s something you can do with relative ease and consistency as you’re getting started — making progress and accomplishing even this small task will do wonders.
Secondly, make your journal yours! This means that you need to decide what medium you want the journal to be in and what you want it to look like. If you want to keep it digitally, what app or program do you connect with aesthetically that has ease of access you can depend on?
If you decide to keep a physical journal, what is your favorite color and how can you personalize your journal to be undeniably yours? What can you customize to bring you joy when you see your journal? This is a personal tool that you are going to use every day — make sure you like the way it looks and feels!
This may seem like it needs to go without being said, but it actually can make a big impact on your journaling. You know who you are and you know when your mind is best. If you are a night owl, then don’t set yourself up for possible roadblocks by choosing an early morning time to spend journaling when you’re not even quite awake yet. The same theory goes if you are a morning person.
Choose the time of the day that you feel the most alive, energetic, and positive! Also, be flexible and give yourself a grace period to figure this out.
Finding the right time of the day to journal also comes down to finding a time where you have room to breathe — room to actually think through what has been going on in your life. Also, possibly most importantly, find a space to journal where you feel safe and can really process and work through your thoughts.
For some people, this space could be mornings at a crowded coffee shop, and for others it could be secluded evenings on the back porch. Whatever that looks like for you, don't be afraid to try and fail until you find your unique time and place to journal.
Now, the main benefit of a journal is its use over time — you probably will not be blown away by its impact in just a week or two. However, as the weeks turn into months and the months to years, the road map of your journey will begin to be more and more meaningful.
That means that setting a clear goal of going long-term early on is a crucial step to learning how to start a journal for mental health.
Here are a couple of tips for going the long haul with your mental health journal.
We have talked a lot about motivation and intention when starting a mental health journal, but this one is huge when it comes to keeping this a long-term practice.
When you think about your journey, keep your goal in mind just as much as you do the process. It is very easy to get caught up in the “how” of a journey so much that when we forget the “why,” This journal is about you and your mental health, so let it aid you in that.
If you need to miss a day or two because things are extra tough, or even just because you’re a little extra busy, take it in stride and keep your eyes on the big picture goal.
This is another learning process. So much of the time, we run from our problems, and when we embark on a mental health journey, our biggest challenges can come from not running anymore. Instead, we face our emotions and our thoughts, and we do it with courage.
Put to paper how you actually feel. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It is a safe place for those things to live and as you do it you’ll start to believe it. This is no Facebook post where we all tend to butter up reality a little. Be honest with yourself — this is for you.
You may not be great at this starting out, but this is a skill you will always develop and that will move you into a long-term relationship with your journal.
Starting a mental health journal is something that has been shown to work and is worth your time. However, when you start you need to be aware of the challenges and develop a good plan to help you overcome those challenges and achieve your goals.
It may be a clunky ride that isn’t perfect, but it’s one with a big payoff that you owe to yourself to embark on.