Last updated: 06.01.22

Why You Should Start a Journal this New Year (Hint: It can help your mental health.)

January is always a tough month, and for many reasons. The days are technically getting lighter, but at a snail’s pace. The joy and celebrations of Christmas feel like a long-distant memory and things of the past, and it feels like all we have stretching out in front of us is uncertainty. Especially right now. Do we dare even get excited about 2022?

So, what can we do to pull ourselves out of the gloom? To find a glimmer of hope and optimism? To help protect our mental health?

We suggest: journaling.

Journaling is simple and effective and lots of studies have shown the positive effects it can have on us. You may be thinking ‘I don’t have time!’ or ‘I’m not a teenage girl!’, but stick with us, this article is going to blow those myths out the water and show you why this year you should give journaling a go.

What is journaling?

Simply put, it’s the acting of writing anything you want – thoughts, feelings, goals, worries, anxieties, gratitude, ideas – in a notebook (or a word document or app) that only you have access to. 

In essence, it reflects our private, inner lives and it’s for this reason that it’s an extremely individual and personal activity. Journaling allows you to be completely honest with yourself away from judgements or opinions from other people. It’s just you and yourself.

You don’t have to be good at writing, so don’t hide behind that. There is no one there to judge your spelling, grammar or sentence structure – they aren’t important. It’s just a way of expressing and externalising your inner world.

It’s an extremely flexible activity. It can be used as when and you need it and there is no right or wrong way; in fact, it can be used for many different purposes. Some days you may want to write down what you’re grateful for, other times you may have rage to get off your chest. It can be whatever you want it to be.

It doesn’t have to be a time-consuming activity either. Some journal styles literally ask you to write one line a day, or a list of things that you’re grateful for. Easy tasks that can fit into a spare five minutes, yet help you refocus your mind in a positive way. Yes, other types of journaling may take longer, but the benefits you can get definitely make it a worthwhile investment of your time.  

And lastly, it’s for anyone.  History shows us that. From Marcus Aurelius in Ancient Rome to Anne Frank in World War II, journaling has appealed to everyone. And for good reason. They recognised the wealth of benefits they can gain from it. 

How can it help your mental health?

It helps bring calm, clarity and peace within yourself. These benefits are widely acknowledged in psychological circles and journaling is often recommended as a tool to help maintain mental health. In fact, it is specifically said to be helpful for a range of mental health issues, particularly depression, anxiety, stress and PTSD.

But how? How does the simple act of writing help our mental health?

It’s a valid question. 

You may think that the act of externalising and making concrete any concerns, challenges, anxieties, or worries will make them worse or allow you to over-exaggerate them. That’s a reasonable belief, but in fact it can help you see more clearly and prevent you from getting bogged down. 

The act of writing slows your mind down, so it can help you understand or make sense of what you’re facing or battling, and help you find solutions more easily. It can help ease our minds of burdens and clutter, so we have the space to tackle challenges and problems in a proactive way.

But the benefits also depend on what you’re writing and exploring, and, as a result, different styles of journaling have different benefits. 

For example, a popular type of journal is the What’s Going Well journal, where you note down each day things that have gone well, no matter how small. This encourages your mind to refocus and not get stuck on the challenges, disappointments or things that didn’t go to plan that day. It helps you see life in a different way, and as a result can help reduce any anxieties and beliefs that life is one stream of challenges, problems and terrible events.

This contrasts with a journal used for reflection, which can be a great aid to helping you understand yourself better. It can help highlight why you may act in certain ways, how you feel about something and where you might need to change. Without the insights from the journal, it’ll be a lot harder to see how you can develop and grow as a person. 

And with tough, uncertain times such as these, it’s these benefits that can really help us. So, push aside the views you had on journaling, and give it a go. It really is an easy way of giving your mental health the support it needs.