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The Importance of Journaling for Mental Health

by Sandy Stone, LPC – Tulsa Counselor at www.legacycounselingsServices.com

As a licensed professional counselor in Tulsa, I consistently recommend journaling to my clients because it a very good therapy tool to have when one deals with any mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, stress or emotional trauma.

The topic you will journal about as part of your mental health counseling usually has something to do with how you are feeling at the time, what triggers you have identified that started that downward spiral of depression or anxiety, or a person or specific relationship or situation you are trying to work through. Journaling is most helpful when your writing is deliberate, detailed and descriptive.  Let’s say I’m struggling with a relationship. In journaling, I want to identify the parties involved. I might want to use initials or some other “code” for the name, but my purpose is to mend the relationship, so I need to be deliberate (specific) in identifying who I am writing about. Just as you would do when you are meeting with a mental health counselor when journaling I also want to write as much detail as I can remember about what happened in the relationship or situation.  And then I want to describe the feelings I had at the time of the conflict. My journal entry might look like this:

“Last Friday, AJ called to tell me she wasn’t going to make it to the concert.  I was so angry, I yelled at her and hung up the phone. We had been a planning this for weeks and she should know how difficult it is for me to go to crowded places alone.  I had already bought the tickets, so I had to go
The concert was going to be horrible.  My anger turned to anxiety and just the thought of going alone sent me into a panic attack.  How could she
do
this to me?  She’s not a good friend.”

For journaling to really help, you need to reread what you have written and ask yourself if there was anything in the situation you would do differently.  Perhaps yelling and hanging up the phone wasn’t the best choice and an apology would be in order for the rudeness. (She might have offered a really viable reason had I listened a little while longer.)  Perhaps taking a deep breath or using other calming techniques and therapy coping skills would release the anger before it had time to take root and grow into anxiety.

It’s also a good time to look at your writing and identify any cognitive distortions, or irrational thoughts, you might have had at the time that could have impacted your feelings.  For instance, “should” statements can sometimes cause problems. If you had never discussed your anxiety over crowds, how “should” she know? Even if you had discussed it, what if she simply forgot?  “Overgeneralization”, taking one event and applying it to a larger situation can negatively impact our emotions. She’s not a good friend is a perfect example of this. Just because this one situation was hurtful, does not negate all the good things she’s done as a friend.  Cognitive distortions can really bog us down with unrealistic expectations. Reviewing and reflecting on your journal entry is a vital part of the process. Make notes on your paper of things you need to address.

If therapeutic journaling is going to help improve your mood or anxiety, the next step is to process alternatives to cognitive distortions, unrealistic expectations, and other negative thoughts or feelings.  In the sample above, I would be asking myself if there ever was a time when this person was a good friend. Does one bad experience make her a bad person? Usually, the answer would be no. If the answer is no, then I can correct my thinking that she is a bad person to thinking that this time I felt hurt when she canceled, but she is still a good friend.

Another way journaling yields positive mental health is the history it builds.  By having a record of experiences you have been able to overcome or work through, you have something you can build on.  Months, even years, down the road, you can reread a journal entry and find encouragement and confidence knowing that whatever you’re currently going through, you’ve been through before and survived.

So, what’s so right about writing?  Everything! If you are struggling with mental health problems, depression, anxiety, or just irrational thinking, contact us at Legacy Counseling Service.  We provide daytime, evening, and Saturday counseling appointments to children, adults, and seniors in Tulsa, Broken Arrow, and the surrounding cities. We offer free 30-minute consultations to make sure that we are the right fit for you and can bill a variety of insurances and out of network. Call us at 539-777-1129.

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