Unconventional Ways to Fill Up Your Journal For Better Mental Health

Creative ways to explore your emotions, thoughts, and experiences with a greater of sovereignty and flow

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

There were fragments of memories in middle school where our English teacher would ask us to keep a journal in order to assess our vocabulary and grammar but the majority neglected the practice after getting the grade because middle schoolers are more immersed with gathering experiences through playing, socializing, and experimenting rather than writing about it. But what I realized as I clean up my closet, with my old entries at hand from when I was five until I was eight, was the fact that when you have gathered enough experiences through playing, socializing, and experimenting, it is best to clock in your experiences by recording it on paper either to reverse your history through recorded words or to prepare you for the next move.

The privacy of journaling enforces you to strip your layers and be completely honest with yourself about how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking. Studies also suggest that journaling helps us self-regulate in order to avoid stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems. It directs the brain to rewire itself and project the situation from a different angle, giving light to a different perspective.

Journaling is beyond writing when you’re overthinking or when you’re sad. You can write events and encounters that you are excited about, thus you have a reminder of good days in your life. You can write when you are upset or angry towards a person, decision, or argument thereby you can thoroughly steer through the situation and see more than your opinion. You can write before or after meditation to help silence your mind or motivate you to utilize your energy to power through more work.

There are several end goals for journaling but there comes an epoch that writing emotions, thoughts, plans, and experiences may be overwhelming to navigate through. It may be because of fear of being too unguarded or discerning like you cannot find the most appropriate words to encapsulate your headspace. But today, we are unraveling unconventional ways to fill up your journal to ease the practice and help you explore your emotions, thoughts, and experiences with more sense of sovereignty and flow.

1. Objective truths

Objective truths are factual evidence about our existence, emotions, thoughts, behavior. This aspect of the journal can become your cue to either calm or get excited when things around you are either too stressful or too slow.

Here are some examples of objective truths:

Sadness, anger, pain, frustrations, and all emotions alike are not “negative”. They are sometimes uncomfortable and unhealthy to live with but they are normal and they are as valid as emotions like happiness and excitement. These emotions arise because they are an indicator of something going wrong and sweeping them under the rug is counterproductive and it will only pile up and cause burnout.Our actions affect us as much as our feelings and our thoughts. Often, we may think the only way to overcome a “negative” event is through changing our feelings or thoughts but sometimes, we have more access to our actions. Instead of forcing ourselves to stop thinking about circumstances that stress us, it is easier to physically walk away or distance ourselves from it.We can control our actions but (sometimes) not the results. There are a plethora of possibilities as to how an event may unfold. We can act and react accordingly.Everyone deserves to take up space. Everyone came to the earth with a birthright to be nurtured, loved, and protected. I deserve to have resources and support. However, it may look different on different days.

Objective truths can also be a collection of advice that you have proven or tested. They can also be lessons you have learned from your therapist, from past experience, from a friend that encountered a similar situation, as long as this advice and learnings are unbiased and candor.

2. Energy Management vs. Time Management

Energy management and time management are both tools for enhancing productivity. Energy management dwells on activities, people, places that give you more power to accomplish work while time management addresses your usage of time as a resource to delegate tasks.

Journaling about energy management and time management supposes you keep track of moments when you felt most empowered and what were the reasons behind it.

Here are some prompts to identify how to manage energy and time better:

What does a low-energy day look like?What/who/where/why do I feel like I am drained of energy?How can I carry myself better during these days?What/who/where/why do I feel like I am full of energy?Create a hierarchy of things that must get done. List down their corresponding deadlines and workloads. The 1st priority is the earliest deadline while the 2nd priority is the heaviest workload.If I rest in between, would I lose momentum and focus, or would I feel more energized?

You can also make a chart or graph corresponding to your productivity level at specific times of the day. This can help identify the timestamps in which you have the most stamina to participate in your tasks. From here, you can rearrange your schedule based on your environment or fluctuating energy levels. For example, if you rate your energy or focus 4/10 consistently during 6:00 p.m. and 9/10 during 9:00 p.m., then you already know that you can finish more of your duty later on at night and you can adjust accordingly. You can take lighter work at 6:00 p.m. then increase the workload as the night progresses.

3. Reappraising when bad things happen

Harvard Edu defines cognitive reappraisal as distinctive thinking to approach a situation differently. One way of doing this is through cognitive reframing.

Cognitive reframing is like a metaphor of how you live the world based on your lenses and these lenses symbolize your emotions. Sometimes your lenses are foggy and your vision is fazed by the fog. When you face a situation, how you act upon it is based on whether you feel good about it or not.

How you interpret a situation can seem like the reality of that situation. If you are tired of your work, then you may be living under the reality that your work is tiring, if you are infuriated with your boss, then you may be living under the reality that your boss is infuriating.

The advantage of reappraising and reframing is it encourages openness to a different viewpoint. It motivates you to side with a belief that may be more helpful to follow. It is meant to neutralize your personal prejudice within the actual gravity of the circumstances.

Here are prompts to help with reframing:

Write the event from a 3rd person point of view or similar to how a reporter broadcasts a report.In this story, am I a character that is aligned with my values?Am I a character who has the authority to act?What aspect can I change? Where can or should I act?What advice would I give a 12-year-old in a similar situation?

4. Honing inner child

Inner child work can help you either dig into your core beliefs that lead to our automated responses or it can help you see situations outlandishly or creatively. It can also help heal some deep-seated wounds which you have never dealt with before or remind you to unleash the inner child within.

Here are some prompts for digging into our inner child:

Write a letter for someone who hurt or nurtured my child self.How was I put down as a child? What was I put down for?How was I empowered as a child? What was I empowered for?What are the most memorable events from my childhood?What are the activities I enjoyed as a child and how can I incorporate it now?

5. Tangible goals via 3 measurable and realistic benchmark

For some, goal-setting may be the initial purpose of keeping a journal. Having your goals written on paper can help you visualize your plans as well as keep you accountable for following up on your intentions. But the best way to follow through on your goals is via specific extents that you must complete or reach a pinnacle that serves as visible proof that a task is achieved.

Here is an example of how it may look like:

Goal: To live in a healthier environment sustainably.

Benchmark 1: I cleanse and organize my space as often as possible thus there is no accumulated dirt or clutter and I know where my things are located.

Benchmark 2: I change my sheets and pillowcases thus my sleeping space is clean and light and my body also feels clean and light after I wake up.

Benchmark 3: I maximize the use of reusable items and avoid the use of 1-time-only items to avoid unnecessary waste.

Writing in a journal can be a cathartic practice to strengthen your mental health. But there are also different mediums to take in journaling such as voice recording, pretending to be in a phone call with yourself or with a friend, and vlogging. You can also draw simple doodles without worrying if your illustration is comparable to bigger artists and simply let yourself express without aiming to make sense out of the results. No matter the method of journaling, what’s important is you channel an outlet that you can pour through your sacred emotions and thoughts.

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Unconventional Ways to Fill Up Your Journal For Better Mental Health was originally published in Better Humans on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.