"When depression takes over and I can't push through it, I have to close my door and shut the world out. It's the only way I know how to survive." -Unknown
I tend to shut down in the midst of depression and anxiety, a behavior commonplace in the realm of mental pain. It's a very real necessity to put a pause on the loudness of the world outside of myself and consider what is occurring within my own mind and body. Sometimes I am able to reach out to those close to me, but sometimes I find it difficult to be completely comfortable, honest, and analytical in terms of the workings of my mind with someone other than myself. I've found the act of journaling to be one of the most healing tools in my mental health arsenal, not only to help myself in an immediate time frame, but to consider my health and wellbeing as a whole.
I've kept an ongoing journal since the eighth grade--it's the greatest representation of myself at each moment in time, how I've grown, how I've changed. Whenever I feel that I've reached a stagnant point or fallen into the mindset that 'nothing will ever get better,' all I have to do is look back at all the progress I've made over the past several years. There is no method I believe in more for the maintenance of one's overall well-being than journaling (besides therapy, perhaps)--and believe me, I've tried it all.
The common reason behind the success of activities similar to journaling (e.g. meditation, walks, therapy, talking with a friend) could lie in simply what it means to be human and what gets in the way of our self-expression as higher level beings. Our thoughts and behaviors arguably define who we are, and when we are too occupied in other aspects of our lives or intrusions to our psyche (e.g. anxieties, rumination), we feel an all-encompassing sense of emptiness within ourselves. These activities, particularly journaling, allow you to expand your mind and feel at home within your own being.
At first, you will have to find what methods work best for your writing style and other needs. And you may consider making time for journaling on a regular basis--not only when you're in a less than ideal mental state, but rather whenever you want to think more deeply. Remember that there's no right or wrong way to journal, you just want to find what will help you most.
With no further ado, here are some awesome journaling methods for you all to try out:
What this method entails is writing down exactly what you think as you think it. Do not try to censor yourself or edit the content. Simply let your ideas flow. Ask yourself: what do I feel in this very moment? do I feel tightness anywhere in my body? what thoughts preoccupy my mind? Be completely honest with yourself. No one else has to read your journal.
Metacognition unlocks the ability to think about how you think. This is almost a subcategory of stream of consciousness, but with the added challenge of reflecting more deeply on the reasons behind your thoughts and behaviors, particularly piecing together why they make sense on a certain level. For instance, say that I feel worthless and I don't know why. With the metacognitive framework in mind, I would think back to perhaps instances of bullying in which people called me worthless, useless, etc., which allows me to realize why I think a certain way and consider whether I truly am worthless. Or say I have an anxiety about public speaking. I would consider where this anxiety stems from, what I fear will happen about the situation, why those fears are significant to me, etc. After all, the basis of cognitive-behavioral therapy is that if I can change how I think, I can change how I feel.
3. Mood tracker
Oftentimes we feel that there is no rhyme or reason to our depression and/or anxiety, but taking note of our moods throughout the day and what triggered those moods can help us better understand how little things affect us. As a result, we are better able to control and shift our circumstances to manage triggers. For example, I could feel anxious and overwhelmed and not be aware of the exact reasons underlying these feelings, but after keeping track for a while, I could realize that I tend to feel that way in new situations or crowded places. In the future, I could better prepare myself mentally to deal with similar situations and reduce the intensity of the feelings--or address additional issues about the specific triggers. This method is usually most helpful in conjunction with other reflective methods.
4. Self-coaching: Utilizing a different point of view
Sometimes our emotions are too painful to face directly, and it can be useful to manufacture some distance in our attempt to address them. You can play with point of view in your exploration of journaling--sometimes it is useful to close the distance and use I, I, I. Or you could talk to yourself like a friend, and use you instead. For example, "You are valuable and worthwhile as a person. Just because you think something, doesn't mean it's necessarily true--you should know that." To create even more distance, refer to yourself using your first name: "Christine, everything will be okay." It can be easier to look into your own thought processes as an observer in order to get rid of automatic censorship.
Ask yourself difficult questions and attempt to answer them, even if they're ultimately unanswerable. Part of the nature of the human mind is its limitless complexity, the way it can hold contradictory ideas at the same time, the way it protects itself with illusions, cognitive distortions, etc. Going back to a previous example, you could follow this train of thought: "I feel worthless. Why do I feel worthless? How do I define worth? What would make me worthwhile?" You can generate a list of questions, answer them as you go, or even get prompts from outside sources.
You could experiment with any one of these methods, or pursue a combination of them. Or you could venture outside of these said methods if you want, these are simply what have helped me the most. Hopefully, you found at least one of these methods helpful!