How Journaling Can Improve Depression and Anxiety

Updated on August 4, 2018
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A working-class dilettante fueled by coffee, "brainy ways" writes essays about mental and emotional health and the long road to recovery.

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For those suffering from bipolar disorder, much of their life is filled with chaos and the uncertainty of when they will experience another episode of mania or debilitating depression.

“The mood state that we want a bipolar person to spend as much time as possible in is the euthymic state, which translates from Latin into "true mood" or normal mood," says Dr. Thomas Jensen, answering on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation.

Unfortunately, this “normal” euthymic state is not the predominant mood in those suffering from bipolar disorder. People living with bipolar disorder must contend with extreme moods, such as manic episodes—periods of intense creativity and energy—to periods of utter despair and loneliness.

How Journaling Can Help

Journaling is a form of writing that goes beyond the elements of keeping a diary. While a diary merely allows individuals to record events, writing a journal involves self-expression and creativity. "Journaling allows you to dialogue with parts of your psyche that are frozen in time," states Laurie Nadel, Ph.D.

The art of journaling helps organize thoughts, purge the mind of mental clutter, and gain insight into your perceptions of your moods and life experiences—a type of creative and safe, inner-dialogue. Journaling can be viewed in an interactive way in which individuals can process their moods and emotions. Once the words are written down on paper, the writer has power over those feelings, and they may opt to keep the pages of their journal or destroy the pages after processing and reviewing their entries.

Often, the stigma associated with bipolar disorder (and other mental disorders) makes it challenging to find support and talk to others. Furthermore, people suffering from episodes of bipolar depression may become so debilitated by their moods that, not only will they physically isolate themselves from others, but that they may withdraw emotionally from family and friends as well.

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Here Are Some Ways to Motivate Yourself to Keep a Journal:

Integrate journaling into your daily routine. Just as you should make time to eat, bathe, and exercise, setting aside just a few minutes each day will help you become more disciplined to record events, as you would in a traditional diary. Journaling moves beyond keeping such records, as it allows for self-expression and creativity. However, recording events and experiences is a necessary part of the journaling process.

Choose Your Own Method of Writing in Your Journal

Sigmund Freud used “free association” with his patients, that is, he allowed them to sit on the couch and speak of their dreams and experiences. Free association as used in the realm of psychotherapeutic technique, allowed Freud to unlock insights from a deeper level when he engaged patients in this type of spontaneous dialog. In the same way, those suffering from depression can begin to gain insight by writing down their thoughts and experiences. Often, it is not until months later that we can look back into our journals and have a fresh perspective on our mental state.

Control Your Audience

Opt to share your journal with whom you trust, or share it with the world by creating a blog. Use the journal to help organize thoughts when you visit your doctor, or simply, throw away any negative entries. Once you have processed the emotions and experiences, they are yours to share or discard. If sharing your experiences online makes you feel uncomfortable, you can choose to use a pen name or change the privacy settings of your blog. Wordpress blogs are especially easy to maintain while attracting a base of supportive, like-minded bloggers.

Be wary of websites that don't allow you to remove or edit your content! Once you have submitted content, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to remove. Often, requests to remove such content are met with little or no response from the publishers.

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Choose Some Writing Prompts to Get Started!

Start by Finding Your "Happy" Place!

Can you remember a time in your life that you felt your happiest? What places, people or events contributed to this happy time? When I journal, I reflect on the year I spent living with my grandparents. I found great comfort during my stay at their home, and they helped nurture my writing and artistic endeavors. When I realize my need to feel encouraged, my mind drifts back to that time.

Find a Common Theme in Your Life by Journaling!

To find a common theme in your life, write about your achievements, from your earliest memories until the present time. Are you still on the same path towards achievement in that area? What is keeping you from getting back on the path? Often, it is our own will that prevents us from recognizing and following our dreams.

One way to start discovering one's "life theme" is by writing down words that appeal to your senses. In this process, you will brainstorm key elements of your life themes. When I performed this exercise, I came up with these words:

  • Insight

  • Ignite

  • Evoke

  • Mindful

  • Nurture

It is best to work on your journal during a quiet time, free from distractions. I get up before the rest of the family on the weekends and allow myself a few hours to write. This isn't always easy or practical, but it's essential for me to manage the complexities of my life.

References:

  1. https://www.sharecare.com/health/bipolar-disorder/what-euthymic-state-bipolar-disorder

  2. http://www.bphope.com/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-bipolar-depression/
  3. http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/writing-your-way-out-of-depression#1

© 2018 Tracy Kocsis

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