Some might think that writing in a journal and using journal prompts for mental health sounds a little cliché, but it can be a driving force for improvement in mental health when done properly; journaling has the capacity to unlock change and this happens by writing thoughts down. Remember, our emotions and behaviours all stem from our initial thoughts and if we don’t write down our thoughts, we can’t evaluate them or understand them in order to make changes.
When you write your thoughts down it does two things, 1. It helps you to remember your thoughts, emotions and behaviours. 2. It helps you to understand your thoughts. I know from my experience having Bipolar and Anxiety Disorder, my brain was always working overtime and I forgot things very easily and couldn’t really make any evaluation. The moment I started a journal, I gained a lot more clarity on why I was behaving and feeling like I was, it also helped my psychiatrist and psychologist to identify patterns that I may not have picked up myself.
The benefits of journaling for mental health
Keeping a journal helps us to develop a better understanding of ourselves, our thoughts, emotions and behaviours, and why we do what we do. Recording an undesirable emotion or behaviour every time it takes place allows us to dig deeper into our psyche and gather information. When we record our thoughts we can see them from a different perspective and how they connect to our behaviours and emotions. It allows us to analyse what causes them. It’s part of taking the power back.
Some people feel that journaling for anxiety isn’t as effective because anxiety is often worrying about what could happen next and not what has happened. From my experience, journaling for anxiety certainly does work because assessing thoughts, emotions and behaviours will help you see patterns over time, identify triggers and then stop the things you’ve been doing that cause anxiety.
How to keep a mental health journal
Over the years I’ve have tried some mental health journals. I’ve used a traditional notebook, a piece of paper and I’ve used apps like Day.lio which help as journaling prompts for therapy. It’s a personal preference as to which method you’d like to use. I like using an app for the convenience of receiving reminders, but I love paper journals for personal feel and connectedness.
Paper journals for mental health journaling
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How to use the ABCD journal prompts for mental health
During my recent and ongoing studies in Cognitive Behavioural Life Coaching, I’ve learnt about the method of ABCD Journaling. It’s the acronym in ABCD Journaling which I love, it acts as journaling prompts for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses, making it really helpful to remember exactly what you need to include in your journal and in what order. I love a good acronym!
To get the most out of this form of journaling, be prepared to commit to logging in your journal daily for a minimum of two weeks, up to at least a month in order to identify and change any negative thoughts. Consistency in journaling is particularly good if there are ongoing problems. Now here’s how it works!
What does ABCD stand for?
As you’ll see, ABCD Journaling or the process of creating a thought record, is a helpful process in creating stress, depression and anxiety journal prompts that you will begin to remember as you record your thoughts daily. Address as much as you can under each letter.
- What was the situation?
- Describe the situation, including your behaviour or experience.
- What happened? Who was around?
- Was a trigger involved?
- What was your initial thought? What were you thinking about at the time?
- How did you feel?
- Did the thought come first, the emotion or the behaviour?
- How were your thoughts negative?
- Were you focusing on the negative aspects of the situation?
- Are you worried about what others think of you?
- Are you making bad assumptions?
- Are you taking it personally?
- Are you blaming yourself or someone else?
- Are you exaggerating things?
- Do you think you are jumping to conclusions?
- Are you overgeneralising?
- Do you have all-or-nothing thinking?
- What do you think is the source of your negative belief?
- What underlying belief may have been the cause?
- What have you experienced in the past that made you think this way?
- Did you learn this from a specific person or in a specific situation?
- Does the belief or fear go much deeper?
- What will be the short-term and long-term consequences if you don’t change your thinking?
- How will this impact your feelings, your thoughts, your behaviours or your actions?
- How will it impact your life, relationships, career etc?
This is where you challenge your thinking.
- You might think this way but is it true? How do you know it’s true?
- Does anyone else you know think this way? How are they going?
- Have you been in a similar situation before? What did you learn?
- What advice would you give someone else in the same situation?
Now that you’ve identified your thinking and how it impacts the situation, as well as challenged the validity of your thoughts and assumptions, you have the opportunity to choose thoughts that better serve you by developing greater self-awareness self-talk banishing negative thoughts.
Create a new way of thinking
Once you’ve identified your thoughts over the weeks and assessed them, write down the core beliefs that are behind them, those beliefs your inner critic gets angry at. Once you’ve done this, write down a new declaration for yourself that is a more positive way of thinking.
Stop negative thoughts from returning
But that’s not it. Now you have to set yourself an action plan so to not let the negative thinking, emotions and behaviour repeat. Ask yourself what you could do differently if it were to happen again. Knowing your triggers, what could you do to prepare yourself? Is there anything you can do to stop yourself before the same negative thoughts and behaviours take hold?
After reviewing your journal entries and coming up with alternatives, the journal prompts for mental health can be life-changing. It’s likely you’ll feel more optimistic and more confident because you understand your thoughts better and you’ve chosen thoughts that better serve you.
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