Depression · Diary · Journaling · Life · Stress · Writing

Opinion: The Humble Pen and Paper, a Solution for Mental Health?

Write as much as you can, as often as you can and carry a notebook. This is creative writing 101. If you want to be a better writer, you have to practice your craft. You also have to be ready to document the intricate movements of human life. A snippet of conversation, a curious sign in a window, the expression of someone sitting alone. Journaling allows you to keep a record of fleeting moments that would otherwise be lost in the rush of living. It’s a practical way of recording events and assess your own emotions.

Notable writers such as Hemmingway, Franz Kafka, Virgina Woolf, Oscar Wilde, Sylvia Plath, Leo Tolstoy, Andre Gide, Tennessee Williams and Lewis Carroll all kept diaries and journals. They also suffered from a variety of mental health problems. Could it be that keeping a diary is not only the secret of successful writers. But also an effective way of managing mental health?

There is a large body of Psychological research that claims that keeping a diary has health benefits such as boosting mood, reducing stress and improving the immune system. I’ve started keeping a journal to see if it would help me manage my moods. I’ve put together a few of the benefits I’ve discovered by putting pen to paper.

1. It helps you to set realistic goals.
It’s easy to beat yourself up for not finishing that first draft. Or for not putting aside time to read. When we struggle to accomplish small ambitions it can build up and feel like a larger failing. Keeping a journal can help. I try to take time to sit and write about what I want to achieve. It doesn’t necessary mean I accomplish everything, but it makes goals more manageable. It’s a remarkable simple way to keep your expectations and reality in check. It’s also lead me to question whether what I’m working towards is what I actually want or if it’s just a nice idea. Want to write stories for children? Have you looked into what that will actually entail? Is it still what you want? What can you start doing tomorrow to bring you closer?

2. It allows you to express emotions and feelings without consequences.
Virginia Woolf said of journaling “if I stopped and took thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap.” It allows you to put your thoughts down without being judged. It doesn’t matter whether what you write is grammatically correct, weird or even good. There’s a certain catharsis to writing uncensored and it can often leads to scraps of great writing you can use later.

3. It allows you to re-frame events.
When a mistake happens, it can send your mind into overdrive. It doesn’t take long for a insignificant moment to become compounded into an unbearable stress tangle. Writing down what happened can allow you to look at it more objectively and relieve some of that anxiety. Next time you’re suffering through a post problem melt down, write down what happened. Write about what you did. Write what you can do to make it better or to avoid it happening again. Often it’s completely out of your control.

Close your book. Breath. Throw the book into the river. You’ll feel better for it. (Last part optional)

4. It gives you screen-free time.
Many of us sit in front of a screen 8 hours a day. Then we come home, watch TV and go to bed checking our social media. It’s essential that we try to give ourselves a break. Writing a journal is a good way to challenge yourself to make time for you. Try to give yourself permission to switch off at the watershed for a week. Try to write for half an hour before bed. Not having a glaring screen as the last thing you see each day can help you sleep. Lack of sleep is the number one obstacle to improving your mood. Doing a bit of writing everyday will also help you to improve your craft and might help you work towards a goal from point 1.

5. It helps you to keep track of highs and lows.
It’s difficult to measure the ebbs and flows of Mental Health. Some days you may feel great, but on others life can be a pure and constant misery. It can be hard to identify if it’s work, home or the whether that’s causing you to feel particularly awful. Keeping a journal can help you monitor yourself. Do you work late on a Wednesday which makes you feel miserable on a Thursday? Give yourself a break and cut out what you can. These insights can empower you to address the cause and effect. Most importantly it can help you realize that external factors are the problem, not you.

Do you keep a diary or journal?

Do you find it helps to keep your mind health?

As always I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below

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