Sometimes, it can be a struggle to be joyful. Trust me, I know.
There are all kinds of reasons why a person’s joy might dull a little. Grief. Chronic illness or other disability. Marital discord or relationship issues. Financial hardship. Mental illness. Quarantine.
Please know that if you’re struggling with any of these things, you’re not alone. I’ve dealt with most of them, and many other people have too. If you need to, please reach out.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I first went to the doctor because my heart was racing for seemingly no reason. I would wake up in the middle of the night, with my heart doing a frantic rat-a-tat-tat in my chest. My blood pressure was high. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was anxious all the time, running a constant stream of “What if” scenarios through my head. Once, I went to a movie in an attempt to distract myself. It didn’t work. Frustrated, I screamed and beat at the steering wheel as I drove home.
It took a while to get my doctor to understand that I wasn’t just having physical issues; the root cause was mental illness. Once she understood that, she gave me a referral to a therapist. It was the therapist who helped me understand my anxiety and gave me the tools I needed to manage it.
One of those tools was journaling. This all happened in 2012-13, right around the time Ryder Carroll was perfecting and launching his Bullet Journal® (Bujo) system. Since the concept was so new at that time, I missed the boat on Bujos back then. That’s kind of a shame. Writing in a blank notebook or writing journal has proven mental health benefits. But a Bullet Journal, with its lists and trackers, can be a terrific tool for managing mental health too.
Writing down your thoughts in a blank notebook can do a lot for your mental health. As Kate over at Meraki Lane points out:
Journaling can do wonders ... providing you with a creative, cathartic release and allowing you to rid yourself of daily stresses. It also allows you to look back on your journey to reflect on personal patterns of behaviour, growth and how you’ve overcome challenges that once set you back.
In addition to anecdotal evidence like Kate’s, there are a lot of studies that prove how impactful journaling can be on mental health. Positive Psychology Program has a terrific, comprehensive overview of those studies. Some of the most interesting bits:
Bujos are known for lush and artistic spreads. I am the first to admit that creating pages like that is WAYYYYY beyond my skillset. Which consists, basically, of messy handwriting, lopsided stick people, and loads of washi tape. If you’re not artistic either, that’s okay! All you need is a blank notebook like the Tree Journal at SohoSpark and a little time to create some spreads and trackers.
Dedicating spreads to certain topics can help keep you on the sunny side. Sylvia at Mommy over Work has some great examples of themes that may help you work towards optimal mental health:
In addition to themed spreads, Bujos are also known for their trackers. You can track virtually anything. When it comes to mental health, think about tracking things like: sleep, moods, medications, self care, and personal care. Coloring in shapes with coded shades can be more revealing than simply checking things off a list. You might choose to simply color in grid squares; or you might create (or print off!) a more artistic tracker, where you color in things like leaves, flower petals, or Tetris tiles.
Beth Hallman explains the point of it all:
[Trackers] have been invaluable in improving my mental health. I can see trends. Have I gone a few days without showering? Am I sleeping more? Not leaving the house? For me, those all indicators of a depressive episode. If I see changes in my moods, I can take a step back and assess what’s going on in my life, especially if suicidal ideation pops up. The data allows me to see correlations between behaviors and events.
But it’s important to be objective about the data in your trackers. That data can help manage your mental health … but only if you aren’t beating yourself up for not doing certain tasks. As Beth points out, “Tracking is meant to improve my mental health, not add a bitter layer of guilt to an already complex and serious condition.”
Do you keep a journal to support your mental well-being? I would love to hear about it if you do. Please drop me a comment below.
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You already know this: being kind to others makes you happy. And, actually, it's a proven fact that kindness makes you feel happy and feeling happy makes you kinder.
Tracking kindness is a terrific way to keep kindness on our radar and incorporate more of it into our lives. Just as a gratitude makes us more attuned to the things that we’re grateful for, a kindness journal or tracker makes us more aware of those moments of grace. And, especially if we have a goal of recording one (or more) acts of kindness daily, we’ll be more apt to take action.
C'mon. Do it. Who would turn down happiness?