Writing can be a powerful tool for healing and coping for those struggling with depression. Though its therapeutic benefits are often cited in the mental health world, it can be difficult to learn how to begin journaling. Here are several ideas and structures that may help get the words flowing on journal pages.
1) Try “stream of consciousness” journaling.
“Stream of consciousness” is a fancy term for a form of writing that is actually very simple. It means recording your thoughts exactly as they are going through your mind. It can range from describing what you see, to explaining how you feel, to telling a story. All of these things can be a part of a single paragraph, if that is how thoughts are going through your mind! This is a great starting point for journaling, as it free us from daunting norms like following a single train of thought or having to polish up word choices and grammar.
2) Make a list of the emotions you’re feeling.
Give yourself permission to recognize, feel, and even be overwhelmed by emotions for a while as you journal. List and elaborate on each emotion using stories, analogies, and as many capitalized (or uncapitalized) letters and exclamation marks as you would like! After exploring each emotion, it is also helpful to take a moment to remember and write out what the truth is—about the situation, about the world, but most importantly about yourself. No matter what your emotions are claiming, you are valuable and loved. You are not alone. Recognize the emotions, and then remind yourself of your worth and value (or reach out to someone who will do this for you!).
3) Include artwork, drawings, or poems.
For many of us, when we think of journaling, we think of strictly writing in prose. However, in times of depression we often encounter emotions so deep and conflicting that they cannot be expressed in sentences and paragraphs. This is where poems, which are excellent at embodying abstract ideas and principles, as well as visual art, can fill in the gaps.
4) Journal using multiple mediums.
In this day and age, we have a variety of journaling mediums. We can use a paper journal and pen, or we can type on a computer. We can also utilize the “notes” sections on our smart phones or even write out journaling in text messages or emails to ourselves. Some people even copy text messages to friends or spouses about their thoughts and feelings and save them as their journal entries for that day. Experiment with these different types of journaling, and find out which one is the best fit for you.
5) Share what you write.
While journaling is an important way to express how we feel and what we think, it’s also important to share our feelings with others. This does not mean we have to hand someone a copy of yesterday’s journal page; rather, the focus is on sharing the essence of our journaling. Once we have written our emotions on paper and acknowledged them, it is easier to verbalize and share with others how we are feeling or what we are struggling with. Sharing can mean a conversation with one person or five, or it can look like a simple text to a friend stating, “I’m really sad today.”
However you choose to journal, remember that there is no right or wrong way to express yourself. Each journal entry reflects what’s going on inside of you and is therefore an invaluable contribution to this world and to your understanding of your own feelings.